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The Age of 



A Division of Random House, Inc. 
New York 


Copyright © 1962 byE.J. Hobsbawm 

All rights reserved under International and Pan-American 
Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States by Vintage Books, 
a division of Random House, Inc., New York. Originally published in 
Great Britain in hardcover by Weidenfeld Sc Nicolson, London, in 1962. 

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data 
Hobsbawm, E.J. (EricJ.), 1917- 

The Age of Revolution, 1789-1898 / Eric Hobsbawm .—1 st Vin tage Books ed. 

p. cm. 

Originally published: London : Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1962. 
Includes bibliographical references (p. ) and index. 

ISBN 0-679-77253-7 

1 . Europe—History—1789-1900. 2 . Industrial revolution. 

I. Title. 

D2gg.H6 1996 
940.2'7—dc20 96-7765 

Random House Web address: 

Printed in the United States of America 
to 9 8 7 6 








4 war 77 

5 peace 99 




8 LAND 149 




12 ideology: religion 217 

13 ideology: secular 234 

14 THE ARTS 253 

15 SCIENCE 277 

16 conclusion: towards 1848 297 

MAPS 309 

NOTES 321 


index 339 




i Europe in 1789 309 

a Europe in 1810 310 

3 Europe in 1840 311 

4 World Population in Large Cities: 1800-1850 312 

5 Western Culture 1815-1848: Opera 314 

6 The States of Europe in 1836 316 

7 Workshop of the World 317 

8 Industrialization of Europe: 1850 318 

9 Spread of French Law 320 



This book traces the transformation of the world between 1789 and 
1848 insofar as it was due to what is here called the ‘dual revolu¬ 
tion’—the French Revolution of 1789 and the contemporaneous (Brit¬ 
ish) Industrial Revolution. It is therefore strictly neither a history of 
Europe nor of the world. Insofar as a country felt the repercussions of 
the dual revolution in this period, I have attempted to refer to it, 
though often cursorily. Insofar as the impact of the revolution on it in 
this period was negligible, I have omitted it. Hence the reader will find 
something about Egypt here, but not about Japan; more about Ireland 
than about Bulgaria, about Latin America than about Africa. Naturally 
this does not mean that the histories of the countries and peoples neg¬ 
lected in this volume are less interesting or important than those which 
are included. If its perspective is primarily European, or more precisely, 
Franco-British, it is because in this period the world—or at least a large 
part of it—was transformed from a European, or rather a Franco- 
British, base. However, certain topics which might well have deserved 
more detailed treatment have also been left aside, not only for reasons 
of space, but because (like the history of the USA) they are treated at 
length in other volumes in this series. 

The object of this book is not detailed narrative, but interpretation 
and what the French call haute vulgarisation. Its ideal reader is that 
theoretical construct, the intelligent and educated citizen, who is not 
merely curious about the past, but wishes to understand how and why 
the world has come to be what it is today and whither it is going. Hence 
it would be pedantic and uncalled-for to load the text with as heavy an 
apparatus of scholarship as it ought to carry for a more learned public. 
My notes therefore refer almost entirely to the sources of actual quota¬ 
tions and figures, or in some cases to the authority for statements which 
are particularly controversial or surprising. 

Nevertheless, it is only fair to say something about the material on 
which a very wide-ranging book such as this is based. All historians are 
more expert (or to put it another way, more ignorant) in some fields 
than in others. Outside a fairly narrow zone they must rely largely on 



the work of other historians. For the period 1789 to 1848 this secondary 
literature alone forms a mass of print so vast as to be beyond the know¬ 
ledge of any individual, even one who can read all the languages in 
which it is written. (In fact, of course, all historians are confined to a 
handful of languages at most.) Much of this book is therefore second- or 
even third-hand, and it will inevitably contain errors, as well as the 
inevitable foreshortenings which the expert will regret, as the author 
does. A bibliography is provided as a guide to further study. 

Though the web of history cannot be unravelled into separate 
threads without destroying it, a certain amount of subdivision of the 
subject is, for practical purposes, essential. I have attempted, very 
roughly, to divide the book into two. parts. The first .deals broadly with 
the main developments of-the period, while, the. second sketches the 
kind of society produced by the dual revolution. (There are, however, 
deliberate overlaps, and the distinction is a matter not of theory but 
of pure convenience. 

My thanks are due to various people with whom I have discussed 
aspects of this book or who have read chapters in draft or proof, but 
who are not responsible for my errors; notably J. D. Bernal, Douglas 
Dakin, Ernst Fischer, Francis Haskell, H. G. Koenigsberger and R. F. 
Leslie. Chapter 14 in particular owes much to the ideas of Ernst 
Fischer. Miss P. Ralph helped considerably as secretary and research 
assistant. Miss E. Mason compiled the index. 

E. J. H. 

London, December ig6i 


Words are witnesses which often speak louder than documents. 
Let us consider a few English words which were invented, or gained 
their modern meanings, substantially in the period of sixty years with 
which this volume deals. They are such words as ‘industry’, ‘indus¬ 
trialist’, ‘factory’, ‘middle class’, ‘working class’, ‘capitalism’ and 
‘socialism’. They include ‘aristocracy’ as well as ‘railway’, ‘liberal’ and 
‘conservative’ as political terms, ‘nationality’, ‘scientist’ and ‘engineer’, 
‘proletariat’ and (economic) ‘crisis’. ‘Utilitarian’ and ‘statistics’, ‘soci¬ 
ology’ and several other names of modern sciences, ‘journalism’ and 
‘ideology’, are all coinages or adaptations of this period.* So is ‘strike’ 
and ‘pauperism’. 

To imagine the modern world without these words (i.e. without the 
things and concepts for which they provide names) is to measure the 
profundity of the revolution which broke out between 1789 and 1848, 
and forms the greatest transformation in human history since the remote 
times when men invented agriculture and metallurgy, writing, the city 
and the state. This revolution has transformed, and continues to trans¬ 
form, the entire world. But in considering it we must distinguish care¬ 
fully between its long-range results, which cannot be confined to any 
social framework, political organization, or distribution of international 
power and resources, and its early and decisive phase, which was 
closely tied to a specific social and international situation. The great 
revolution of 1789-1848 was the triumph not of‘industry’ as such, but 
of capitalist industry; not of liberty and equality in general but of 
middle class or ‘ bourgeois’ liberal society; not of ‘the modern economy’ or 
‘the modern state’, but of the economies and states in a particular 
geographical region of the world (part of Europe and a few patches 
of North America), whose centre was the neighbouring and rival states 
of Great Britain and France. The transformation of 1789-1848 is 

* Most of these either have international currency, or were fairly literally translated into 
various languages. Thus ‘socialism’ or ‘journalism’ are fairly international, while the com¬ 
bination ‘iron road’ is the basis of the name of the railway everywhere except in its country 
of origin. 



essentially the twin upheaval which took place in those two countries, 
and was propagated thence across the entire world. 

But it is not unreasonable to regard this dual revolution—the rather 
more political French and the industrial (British) revolution.—not so 
much as something which belongs to the history of the two countries 
which were its chief carriers and symbols, but as the twin crater of a 
rather larger regional volcano. That the simultaneous eruptions should 
occur in France and Britain, and have slightly differing characters, is 
neither accidental nor uninteresting. But from the point of view of the 
historian of, let us say, ad 3000, as from the point of view of the 
Chinese or African observer, it is more relevant to note that they 
occurred somewhere or other in North-western Europe and its overseas 
prolongations, and that they could not with any probability have been 
expected to occur at this time in any other part of the world. It is 
equally relevant to note that they are at this period almost incon¬ 
ceivable in any form other than the triumph of a bourgeois-liberal 

It is evident that so profound a transformation cannot be understood 
without going back very much further in history than 1789, or even 
than the decades which immediately preceded it and clearly reflect (at 
least in retrospect), the crisis of the ancien regimes of the North-western 
world, which the dual revolution was to sweep away. Whether or not 
we regard the American Revolution of 1776 as an eruption of equal 
significance to the Anglo-French ones, or merely as their most important 
immediate precursor and stimulator; whether or not we attach funda¬ 
mental importance to the constitutional crises and economic reshuffles 
and stirrings of 1760-89, they can clearly explain at most the occasion 
and timing of the great breakthrough and not its fundamental causes. 
How far back into history the analyst should go—whether to the mid¬ 
seventeenth century English Revolution, to the Reformation and the 
beginning of European military world conquest and colonial exploita¬ 
tion in the early sixteenth century, or even earlier, is for our purposes 
irrelevant, for such analysis in depth would take us far beyond the 
chronological boundaries of this volume. 

Here we need merely observe that the social and economic forces, 
the political and intellectual tools of this transformation were already 
prepared, at all events in a part of Europe sufficiently large to revolu¬ 
tionize the rest. Our problem is not to trace the emergence of a world 
market, of a sufficiently active class of private entrepreneurs, or even 
(in England) of a state dedicated to the proposition that the maximiza¬ 
tion of private profit was the foundation of government policy. Nor is it 
to trace the evolution of the technology, the scientific knowledge, or the 



ideology of an individualist, secularist, rationalist belief in progress. 
By the 1780s we can take the existence of all these for granted, though 
we cannot yet assume that they were sufficiently powerful or wide¬ 
spread. On the contrary, we must, if anything, safeguard against the 
temptation to overlook the novelty of the dual revolution because of the 
familiarity of its outward costume, the undeniable fact that Robes¬ 
pierre’s and Saint-Just’s clothes, manners and prose would not have 
been out of place in a drawing-room of the ancien regime, that the 
Jeremy Bentham whose reforming ideas expressed the bourgeois 
Britain of the 1830s was the very man who had proposed the same 
ideas to Catherine the Great of Russia, and that the most extreme 
statements of middle class political economy came from members of 
the eighteenth-century British House of Lords. 

Our problem is thus to explain not the existence of these elements 
of a new economy and society, but their triumph; to trace not the 
progress of their gradual sapping and mining in previous centuries, 
but their decisive conquest of the fortress. And it is also to trace the 
profound changes which this sudden triumph brought within the 
countries most immediately affected by it, and within the rest of 
the world which was now thrown open to the full explosive impact of 
the new forces, the ‘conquering bourgeois’, to quote the title of a recent 
world history of this period. 

Inevitably, since the dual revolution occurred in one part of Europe, 
and its most obvious and immediate effects were most evident there, the 
history with which this volume deals is mainly regional. Inevitably 
also, since the world revolution spread outwards from the double crater 
of England and Franee it initially took the form of a European expansion 
in and conquest of the rest of the world. Indeed its most striking conse¬ 
quence for world history was to establish a domination of the globe by 
a few western regimes (and especially by the British) which has no 
parallel in history. Before the merchants, the steam-engines, the ships 
and the guns of the west—and before its ideas—the age-old civilizations 
and empires of the world capitulated and collapsed. India became a 
province administered by British pro-consuls, the Islamic states were 
convulsed by crisis, Africa lay open to direct conquest. Even the great 
Chinese Empire was forced in 1839-42 to open its frontiers to western 
exploitation. By 1848 nothing stood in the way of western conquest of 
any territory that western governments or businessmen might find it to 
their advantage to occupy, just as nothing but time stood in the way of 
the progress of western capitalist enterprise. 

And yet the history of the dual revolution is not merely one of the 
triumph of the new bourgeois society. It is also the history of the emergence 



of the forces which were, within a century of 1848, to have turned expan¬ 
sion into contraction. What is more, by 1848 this extraordinary future 
reversal of fortunes was already to some extent visible. Admittedly, the 
world-wide revolt against the west, which dominates the middle of the 
twentieth century, was as yet barely discernible. Only in the Islamic 
world can we observe the first stages of that process by which those 
conquered by the west have adopted its ideas and techniques to turn 
the tables on it: in the beginnings of internal westernizing reform within 
the Turkish empire in the 1830s, and above all in the neglected and 
significant career of Mohammed Ali of Egypt. But within Europe the 
forces and ideas which envisaged the supersession of the triumphant 
new society, were already emerging. The ‘spectre of communism’ 
already haunted Europe by 1848. It was exorcized in 1848. For a long 
time thereafter it was to remain as powerless as spectres in fact are, 
especially in the western world most immediately transformed by the 
dual revolution. But if we look round the world of the 1960s we shall 
not be tempted to underestimate the historic force of the revolutionary 
socialist and communist ideology bom out of reaction against the dual 
revolution, and which had by 1848 found its first classic formulation. 
The historic period which begins with the construction of the first 
factory system of the modern world in Lancashire and the French 
Revolution of 1789 ends with the construction of its first railway net¬ 
work and the publication of the Communist Manifesto. 


Part I 




Le dix-huitikme stick doit etre mis au Pantheon. —Saint-Just 1 


The first thing to observe about the world of the 1780s is that it was 
at once much smaller and much larger than ours. It was smaller geo¬ 
graphically, because even the best-educated and best-informed men 
then living-^-let ussayaman like the scientistandtraveller Alexander von 
Humboldt (1769-1859)—knew only patches of the inhabited globe. 
(The ‘known worlds’ of less scientifically advanced and expansionist 
communities than those of Western Europe were clearly even smaller, 
diminishing to the tiny segments of the earth within which the illiterate 
Sicilian peasant or the cultivator in the Burmese hills lived out his life, 
and beyond which all was and always would forever be unknown.) 
Much of the surface of the oceans, though by no means all, had already 
been explored and mapped thanks to the remarkable competence of 
eighteenth-century navigators like James Cook, though human know¬ 
ledge of the sea-bed was to remain negligible until the mid-twentieth 
century. The main outlines of the continents and most islands were 
known, though by modern standards not too accurately. The size and 
heightofthe mountain ranges in Europe were known with some approach 
to precision, those in parts of Latin America very roughly, those in 
Asia hardly at all, those in Africa (with the exception of the Atlas) for 
practical purposes not at all. Except for those of China and India, the 
course of the great rivers of the world was mysterious to all but a hand¬ 
ful of trappers, traders or coureurs-de-bois, who had, or may have had, 
knowledge of those in their regions. Outside of a few areas-—in several 
continents they did not reach more than a few miles inland from the 
coast—the map of the world consisted of white spaces crossed by the 
marked trails of traders or explorers. But for the rough-and-ready 
second- or third-hand information collected by travellers or officials in 
remote outposts, these white spaces would have been even vaster than 
in fact they were. 

Not only the ‘known world’ was smaller, but the real world, at any 
rate in human terms. Since for practical purposes no censuses are 



available, all demographic estimates are sheer guesses, but it is evident 
that the earth supported only a fraction of today’s population; probably 
not much more than one-third. If the most usually quoted guesses are 
not too wide of the mark Asia and Africa supported a somewhat larger 
proportion of the world’s people than today, Europe, with about 
187 million in 1800 (as against about 600 million today), a somewhat 
smaller one, the Americas obviously a much smaller one. Roughly, 
two out of every three humans would be Asians in 1800, one out of 
every five European, one out of ten African, one out of thirty-three Ameri¬ 
can or Oceanian. It is obvious that this much smaller population was 
much more sparsely distributed across the face of the globe, except 
perhaps for certain small regions of intensive agriculture or high urban 
concentration, such as parts of China, India and Western or Central 
Europe, where densities comparable to those of modem times may have 
existed. If population was smaller, so also was the area of effective 
human settlement. Climatic conditions (probably somewhat colder 
and wetter than today, though no longer quite so cold or wet as during 
the worst period of the ‘little ice age’ of c. 1300-1700) held back the 
limits of settlement in the Arctic. Endemic disease, such as malaria, 
still restricted it in many areas, such as Southern Italy, where the coastal 
plains, long virtually unoccupied, were only gradually peopled during 
the nineteenth century. Primitive forms of the economy, notably hunt¬ 
ing and (in Europe) the territorially wasteful seasonal transhumance 
of livestock, kept large settlements out of entire regions—such as the 
plains of Apulia: the early nineteenth-century tourist’s prints of the 
Roman campagna, an empty malarial space with a few ruins, a few 
cattle, and the odd picturesque bandit, are familiar illustrations of such 
landscapes. And of course much land which has since come under the 
plough was still, even in Europe, barren heath, waterlogged fen, 
rough grazing or forest. 

Humanity was smaller in yet a third respect: Europeans were, on the 
whole, distinctly shorter and lighter than they are today. To take one 
illustration from the abundance of statistics about the physique of con¬ 
scripts on which this generalization is based: in one canton on the 
Ligurian coast 72 per cent of the recruits in 1792-9 were less than 
1-50 metres (5 ft. 2 in.) tall. 2 That did not mean that the men of the 
later eighteenth century were more fragile than we are. The scrawny, 
stunted, undrilled soldiers of the French Revolution were capable of a 
physical endurance equalled today only by the undersized guerillas in 
colonial mountains. A week’s unbroken marching, with full equipment, 
at the rate of thirty miles a day, was common. However, the fact 
remains that human physique was then, by our standards, very poor, 



as is indicated by the exceptional value kings and generals attached to 
the ‘tall fellows’, who were formed into the elite regiments of guards, 
cuirassiers and the like. 

Yet if the world was in many respects smaller, the sheer difficulty or 
uncertainty of communications made it in practice much vaster than 
it is today. I do not wish to exaggerate these difficulties. The later 
eighteenth century was, by medieval or sixteenth century standards, 
an age of abundant and speedy communications, and even before the 
revolution of the railways, improvements in roads, horse-drawn vehicles 
and postal services are quite remarkable. Between the 1760s and the 
end of the century the journey from London to Glasgow was shortened 
from ten or twelve days to sixty-two hours. The system of mail-coaches 
or diligences, instituted in the second half of the eighteenth century, 
vastly extended between the end of the Napoleonic wars and the 
coming of the railway provided not only relative speed—the postal 
service from Paris to Strasbourg took thirty-six hours in 1833—but also 
regularity. But the provision for overland passenger-transport was 
small, that for overland goods transport both slow and prohibitively 
expensive. Those who conducted government business or commerce 
were by no means cut off from one another: it is estimated that twenty 
million letters passed through the British mails at the beginning of the 
wars with Bonaparte (at the end of our period there were ten times as 
many); but for the great majority of the inhabitants of the world letters 
were useless, as they could not read,-and travel—except perhaps to and 
from markets—altogether out of the ordinary. If they or their goods 
moved overland, it was overwhelmingly on foot or by the slow speeds 
of carts, which even in the early nineteenth century carried five-sixths of 
French goods traffic at somewhat less than twenty miles a day. Couriers 
flew across long distances with dispatches; postillions drove mail- 
coaches with a dozen or so passengers each shaking their bones or, if 
equipped with the new leather suspension, making them violently sea¬ 
sick. Noblemen raced along in private carriages. But for the greater 
part of the world the speed of the carter walking beside his horse or 
mule governed land transport. 

Under the circumstances transport by water was therefore not only 
easier and cheaper, but often also (except for the uncertainties of wind 
and weather) faster. It took Goethe four and three days respectively to 
sail from Naples to Sicily and back during his Italian tour. The mind 
boggles at the time it would have taken him to travel overland in any¬ 
thing like comfort. To be within reach of a port was to be within reach 
of the world: in a real sense London was closer to Plymouth or Leith 
than to villages in the Breckland of Norfolk; Seville was more accessible 



from Veracruz than from Valladolid, Hamburg from Bahia than from 
the Pomeranian hinterland. The chief drawback of water transport 
was its intermittency. Even in 1820 the London mails for Hamburg 
and Holland were made up only twice a week, those for Sweden and 
Portugal once weekly, those for North America once a month. Yet there 
can be no doubt that Boston and New York were in much closer 
contact with Paris than, let us say, the Carpathian county of Maramaros 
was with Budapest. And just as it was easier to transport goods and men 
in quantity over the vast distances of the oceans—easier, for instance, for 
44,000 to set sail for America from Northern Irish ports in five years 
(1769-74) than to get five thousand to Dundee in three generations— 
so it was easier to link distant capitals than country and city. The news 
of the fall of the Bastille reached the populace of Madrid within thirteen 
days; but in Peronne, a bare 133 kilometres from the capital, ‘the news 
from Paris’ was not received until the 28th. 

The world of 1789 was therefore, for most of its inhabitants, incalcul¬ 
ably vast. Most of them, unless snatched away by some awful hazard, 
such as military recruitment, lived and died in the county, and often in 
the parish, of their birth: as late as 1861 more than nine out of ten in 
seventy of the ninety French departments lived in the department of 
their birth. The rest of the globe was a matter of government agents 
and rumour. There were no newspapers, except for a tiny handful of 
the middle and upper classes—5,000 was the usual circulation of a 
French journal even in 1814—and few could read in any case. News 
came to most through travellers and the mobile section of the popula¬ 
tion: merchants and hawkers, travelling journeymen, migratory crafts¬ 
men and seasonal labourers, the large and mixed population of the 
vagrant and footloose ranging from itinerant friars or pilgrims to 
smugglers, robbers and fairground folk; and, of course, through the 
soldiers who fell upon the population in war or garrisoned them in 
peace. Naturally news also came through official channels-—through 
state or church. But even the bulk of the local agents of such state-wide 
or ecumenical organizations were local men, or men settled for a life¬ 
time’s service among those of their kind. Outside the colonies the 
official nominated by his central government and sent to a succession 
of provincial posts was only just coming into existence. Of all the sub¬ 
altern agents of the state perhaps only the regimental officer habitually 
expected to live an unlocalized life, consoled only by the variety of 
wine, women and horses of his country. 




Such as it was, the world of 1789 was overwhelmingly rural, and 
nobody can understand it who has not absorbed this fundamental fact. 
In countries like Russia, Scandinavia or the Balkans, where the city 
had never flourished excessively, between 90 and 97 per cent of the 
population were rural. Even in areas with a strong though decayed 
urban tradition, the rural or agricultural percentage was extraordin¬ 
arily high: 85 per cent in Lombardy, 72-80 per cent in Venetia, more 
than 90 per cent in Calabria and Lucania, according to available 
estimates.® In fact, outside of a few very flourishing industrial or com¬ 
mercial areas we should be hard put to it to find a sizeable European state 
in which at least four out of every five inhabitants were not countrymen. 
And even in England itself, the urban population only just outnumbered 
the rural population for the first time in 1851. 

The word ‘urban’ is, of course, ambiguous. It includes the two 
European cities which by 1789 can be called genuinely large by our 
standards, London, with about a million, and Paris, with about half a 
million, and the score or so with a population of 100,000 or more: two 
in France, two in Germany, perhaps four in Spain, perhaps five in 
Italy (the Mediterranean was traditionally the home of cities), two in 
Russia, and one each in Portugal, Poland, Holland, Austria, Ireland, 
Scotland, and European Turkey. But it also includes the multitude of 
small provincial towns in which the majority of city-dwellers actually 
lived; the ones where a man could stroll in a few minutes from the 
cathedral square surrounded by the public buildings and-the houses of 
the notables, to the fields. Of the 19 per cent of Austrians who, even at 
the end of our period (1834), lived in towns, .well over three-quarters 
lived in towns of less than 20,000 inhabitants; about half in towns of 
between two and five thousand. These were the towns through which 
the French journeymen wandered on their Tour de France; whose 
sixteenth-century profiles, preserved like flies in amber by the stagnation 
of subsequent centuries, the German romantic poets evoked in the 
background of their tranquil landscapes; above which the cliffs of 
Spanish cathedrals towered; among whose mud the Chassidic Jews 
venerated their miracle-working rabbis and the orthodox ones disputed 
the divine subtleties of the law; into which Gogol’s inspector-general 
drove to terrify the rich, and Chichikov to ponder on the purchase of 
dead souls. But these also were the towns out of which the ardent and 
ambitious young men came to make revolutions or their first million; 
or both. Robespierre came out of Arras, Gracchus Babeuf out of Saint- 
Quentin, Napoleon out of Ajaccio. 


These provincial towns were none the less urban for being small. The 
genuine townsmen looked down upon the surrounding countryside with 
the contempt of the quick-witted and knowledgeable for the strong, 
slow, ignorant and stupid. (Not that by the standards of the real man 
of the world the sleepy back-country township had anything to boast 
about: the German popular comedies mocked ‘KraehwinkeP—the 
petty municipality—as cruelly as the more obvious rural hayseeds.) The 
line between town and country, or rather between town occupations 
and farm occupations, was sharp. In many countries the excise barrier, 
or sometimes even the old line of the wall, divided the two. In extreme 
cases, as in Prussia, the government, anxious to keep its taxable citizens 
under proper supervision, secured a virtually total separation of urban 
and rural activities. Even where there was no such rigid administrative 
division, townsmen were often physically distinct from peasants. In a 
vast area of Eastern Europe they were German, Jewish or Italian islands 
in a Slav, Magyar or Rumanian lake. Even townsmen of the same 
religion and nationality as the surrounding peasantry looked different: 
they wore different dress, and indeed were in most cases (except for the 
exploited indoor labouring and manufacturing population) taller, 
though perhaps also slenderer.* They were probably, and certainly 
prided themselves on being, quicker in mind and more literate. Yet in 
their mode of life they were almost as ignorant of what went on outside 
their immediate district, almost as closed-in, as the village. 

The provincial town still belonged essentially to the economy and 
society of the countryside. It lived by battening on the surrounding 
peasantry and (with relatively few exceptions) by very little else except 
taking in its own washing. Its professional and middle classes were the 
dealers in corn and cattle, the processers of farrri-products, the lawyers 
and notaries who handled the affairs of noble estates or the interminable 
litigations which are part of land-owning or land-holding communities; 
the merchant-entrepreneurs who put out and collected for and from 
the rural spinners and weavers; the more respectable of the repre¬ 
sentatives of government, lord or church. Its craftsmen and shop¬ 
keepers supplied the surrounding peasantry or the townsmen, who lived 
off the peasantry. The provincial city had declined sadly since its 
heyday in the later middle ages. It was only rarely a ‘free city’ or city 
state; only rarely any longer a centre of manufactures for a wider 
market or a staging-post in international trade. As it had declined, it 
clung with increasing stubbornness to that local monopoly of its market 

* Thus in 1823-7 townsmen in Brussels were on average 3 cm. taller than men from the 
surrounding rural communes, townsmen in Louvain 2 cm. There is a considerable body of 
military statistics on this point, though all from the nineteenth century. 4 


the world in the 1780s 

which it defended against all comers: much of the provincialism which 
the young radicals and big city slickers mocked, derived from this 
movement of economic self-defence. In Southern Europe the gentlemen 
and even sometimes the nobles lived in it on the rents of their estates. 
In Germany the bureaucracies of the innumerable small principalities, 
themselves barely more than large estates, administered the wishes of 
Serenissimus there with the revenues collected from a dutiful and silent 
peasantry. The provincial town of the late eighteenth century might be 
a prosperous and expanding community, as its townscape, dominated 
by stone buildings in a modest classical or rococo style still bears witness 
in parts of Western Europe. But that prosperity came from the 


The agrarian problem was' therefore the fundamental one in the world 
of 1789, and it is easy to see why the first systematic school of continental 
economists, the French Physiocrats, assumed as a matter of course that 
the land, and the land rent, was the sole source of net income. And the 
crux of the agrarian problem was the relation between those who culti¬ 
vated the land and those who owned it, those who produced its wealth 
and those who accumulated it. 

From the point of view of agrarian property relations, we may divide 
Europe—or rather the economic complex whose centre lay in Western 
Europe—into three large segments. To the west of Europe there lay 
the overseas colonies. In these, with the notable exception of the 
Northern United States of America and a few less significant patches of 
independent farming, the typical cultivator was an Indian working as 
a forced labourer or virtual serf, or a Negro working as a slave; some¬ 
what more rarely, a peasant tenant, share-cropper or the like. (In the 
colonies of the Eastern Indies, where direct cultivation by European 
planters was rarer, the typical form of compulsion by the controllers of 
the land was the forced delivery of quotas of crops, e.g. spice or 
coffee in the Dutch islands.) In other words the typical cultivator was 
unfree or under political constraint. The typical landlord was the owner 
of the large quasi-feudal estate (hacienda, finca, estancia) or of a slave 
plantation. The characteristic economy of the quasi-feudal estate was 
primitive and self-contained, or at any rate geared to purely regional 
demands: Spanish America exported mining products, also produced 
by what were virtually Indian serfs, but nothing much in the way of 
farm-products. The characteristic economy of the slave-plantation zone, 
whose centre lay in the Caribbean islands, along the northern coasts of 



South America (especially in Northern Brazil) and the southern ones of 
the USA, was the production-of a few vitally important export crops, 
sugar, to a lesser extent tobacco and coffee, dye-stuffs and, from the 
Industrial Revolution onwards, above all cotton. It therefore formed an 
integral part of the European economy and, through the slave-trade, of 
the African. Fundamentally the history of this zone in our period can be 
written in terms of the decline of sugar and the rise of cotton. 

To the east of Western Europe, more specifically to the east of a line 
running roughly along the river Elbe, the western frontiers of what is 
today Czechoslovakia, and then south to Trieste, cutting off Eastern 
from Western Austria, lay the region of agrarian serfdom. Socially, 
Italy south of Tuscany and Umbria, and Southern Spain belonged to 
this region, though Scandinavia (with the partial exception of Denmark 
and Southern Sweden) did not. This vast zone contained its patches of 
technically free peasants: German peasant colonists scattered all over 
it from Slovenia to the Volga, virtually independent clans in the savage 
rocks of the Illyrian hinterland, almost equally savage peasant-warriors 
like the Pandurs and Cossacks on what had until lately been the military 
frontier between Christian and Turk or Tartar, free pioneer squatters 
beyond the reach of lord and state, or those who lived in the vast 
forests, where large-scale farming was out of the question. On the whole, 
however, the typical cultivator was unfree, and indeed almost drenched 
by the flood of serfdom which had risen almost without a break since 
the later fifteenth or early sixteenth centuries. It was least obvious in 
the Balkan areas which had been, or still were, under the direct adminis¬ 
tration of the Turks. Though the original agrarian system of the Turkish 
pre-feudalism, a rough division of the land in which each unit supported 
a non-hereditary Turkish warrior, had long degenerated into a system 
of hereditary landed estates under Mohammedan lords, these lords 
seldom engaged in farming. They merely sucked what they could from 
their peasantry. This is why the Balkans, south of the Danube and 
Save, emerged from Turkish domination in the nineteenth and twen¬ 
tieth centuries substantially as peasant countries, though extremely 
poor ones, and not as countries of concentrated agricultural property. 
Still, the Balkan peasant was legally unfree as a Christian, and de facto 
unfree as a peasant, at least so long as he was within reach of the lords. 

Over the rest of the area, however, the typical peasant was a serf, 
devoting a large part of the week to forced labour on the lord’s land, 
or its equivalent in other obligations. His unfreedom might be so great as 
to be barely distinguishable from chattel slavery, as in Russia and those 
parts of Poland where he could be sold separately from the land: 
a notice in the Gazette de Moscou in 1801 advertised ‘For sale, three 



coachmen, well-trained and.very presentable, also two girls, aged 18 
and 15, both of good appearance and skilled in different kinds of 
manual work. The same house has for sale two hairdressers, one, 
aged 21, can read, write, play a musical instrument and do duty as 
postilion, the other suitable for dressing ladies’ and gentlemen’s hair; 
also pianos and organs.’ (A large proportion of serfs served as domestics; 
in Russia almost 5 per cent of all serfs in 1851.®) In the hinterland 
of the Baltic Sea—the main trade-route with Western Europe—servile 
agriculture produced largely export crops for the importing countries 
of the west: corn, flax, hemp and forest products mostly used for 
shipping. Elsewhere it relied more on the regional market, which con¬ 
tained at least one accessible region of fairly advanced manufacturing 
and urban development, Saxony and Bohemia and the great capital of 
Vienna. Much of it, however, remained backward. The opening of the 
Black Sea route and the increasing urbanization of Western Europe, 
and notably of England, had only just begun to stimulate the corn- 
exports of the Russian black earth belt, which were to remain the staple 
of Russian foreign trade until the industrialization of the USSR. The 
eastern servile area may therefore also be regarded as a food and raw- 
material producing ‘dependent economy’ of Western Europe, analogous 
to the overseas colonies. 

The servile areas of Italy and Spain had similar economic charac¬ 
teristics, though the legal technicalities of the peasants’ status were 
somewhat different. Broadly, they were areas of large noble estates. It 
is not impossible that in Sicily and Andalusia several of these were the 
lineal descendants of Roman latifundia, whose slaves and coloni had 
turned into the characteristic landless day-labourers of these regions. 
Cattle-ranching, corn-production (Sicily is an ancient export-granary) 
and the extortion of whatever was to be extorted from the miserable 
peasantry, provided the income of the dukes and barons who owned 

The characteristic landlord of the servile area was thus a noble 
owner and cultivator or exploiter of large estates. Their vastness staggers 
the imagination: Catherine the Great gave between forty and fifty 
thousand serfs to individual favourites; the Radziwills of Poland had 
estates as large as half of Ireland; Potocki owned three million acres in 
the Ukraine; the Hungarian Esterhazy’s (Haydn’s patrons) at one time 
owned nearly seven million acres. Estates of several hundreds of thou¬ 
sands of acres were common.* Neglected, primitive and inefficient 

* Eighty estates of over (roughly) 25,000 acres (10,000 ha) were confiscated in Czecho¬ 
slovakia after 1918, among them 500,000 acres each from the Schoenborns and the 
Schwarzenbergs, 400,000 from the Liechtensteins, 170,000 from the Kinskys. 8 



though these often were, they yielded princely incomes. The Spanish 
grandee might, as a French visitor observed of the desolate Medina 
Sidonia estates, ‘reign like a lion in the forests whose roar frightens away 
whatever might approach him’, 7 but he was not short of cash, even by 
the ample standards of the British milord. 

Below the magnates, a class of country gentlemen of varying size and 
economic resources exploited the peasantry. In some countries it was 
inordinately large, and consequently poor and discontented; dis¬ 
tinguished from the non-noble chiefly by its political and social privi¬ 
leges and its disinclination to engage in ungentlemanly pursuits such as 
work. In Hungary and Poland it amounted to something like one in 
ten of the total population, in Spain at the end of the eighteenth cen¬ 
tury to almost half a million—or, in 1827, to 10 per cent of the total 
European nobility; 8 elsewhere it was much smaller. 


In the rest of Europe the agrarian structure was socially not dissimilar. 
That is to say that for the peasant or labourer anybody who owned an 
estate was a ‘gendeman’ and a member of the ruling class, and con¬ 
versely noble or gende status (which gave social and political privileges 
and was still nominally the only road to the highest offices of state) 
was inconceivable without an estate. In most countries of Western 
Europe the feudal order implied by such ways of thinking was still 
politically very alive, though economically increasingly obsolete. Indeed, 
its very economic obsolescence, which made noble and gentle incomes 
limp increasingly far behind the rise in prices and expenditure, made 
the aristocracy exploit its one inalienable economic asset, the privileges 
of birth and status, with ever-greater intensity. All over continental 
Europe the nobleman elbowed his low-born rivals out of offices of 
profit under the crown: from Sweden, where the proportion of com¬ 
moner officers fell from 66 per cent in 1719 (42 per cent in 1700) to 
23 per cent in 1780,* to France, where this ‘feudal reaction’ precipitated 
the French Revolution (see below Chapter 3). But even where it was 
in some ways distinctly shaky, as in Franee where entry into the landed 
nobility was relatively easy, or even more in Britain where landed 
and noble status was the reward for any kind of wealth, provided it was 
large enough, the link between estate-ownership and ruling-class status 
remained, and had indeed lately become somewhat closer. 

Economically, however, western rural society was very different. The 
characteristic peasant had lost much of his servile status in the late 
middle ages, though still often retaining a great many galling marks of 



legal dependence. The characteristic estate had long ceased to be a unit 
of economic enterprise and had become a system of collecting rents 
and other money incomes. The more or less free peasant, large, medium 
or small, was the characteristic cultivator of the soil. If a tenant of some 
sort he paid rent (or, in a few areas, a share of the crop) to a landlord. 
If technically a freeholder, he probably still owed the local lord a 
variety of obligations which might or might not be turned into money 
(such as the obligation to send his corn to the lord’s mill), as well as 
taxes to the prince, tithes to the church, and some duties of forced 
labour, all of which contrasted with the relative exemption of the higher 
social strata. But if these political bonds were stripped away, a large 
part of Europe would emerge as an area of peasant agriculture; gen¬ 
erally one in which a minority of wealthy peasants tended to become 
commercial farmers selling a permanent crop surplus to the urban 
market, and a majority of small and medium peasants lived in some¬ 
thing like self-sufficiency off their holdings unless these were so small 
as to oblige them to take part-time work in agriculture or manufacture 
for wages. 

Only a few areas had pushed agrarian development one stage further 
towards a purely capitalist agriculture. England was the chief of these. 
There landownership was extremely concentrated, but the charac¬ 
teristic cultivator was a medium-sized commercial tenant-farmer oper¬ 
ating with hired labour. A large undergrowth of smallholders, cottagers 
and the like still obscured this. But when this was stripped away 
(roughly between 1760 and 1830) what emerged was not peasant 
agriculture but a class of agricultural entrepreneurs, the farmers, and 
a large agrarian proletariat. A few European areas where commercial 
investment traditionally went into farming, as in parts of Northern 
Italy and the Netherlands, or where specialized commercial crops were 
produced, also showed strong capitalist tendencies, but this was excep¬ 
tional. A further exception was Ireland, an unhappy island which com¬ 
bined the disadvantages of the backward areas of Europe with those of 
proximity to the most advanced economy. Here a handful of absentee 
latifundists similar to the Andalusian or Sicilian ones exploited a vast 
mass of tenants by means of extortionate money-rents. 

Technically European agriculture was still, with the exception of a 
few advanced regions, both traditional and astonishingly inefficient. Its 
products were still mainly the traditional ones: rye, wheat, barley, oats 
and in Eastern Europe buckwheat, the basic food of the people, beef 
cattle, sheep, goats and their dairy products, pigs and fowl, a certain 
amount of fruit and vegetables, wine, and a certain number of industrial 
raw materials such as wool, flax, hemp for cordage, barley for beer, etc. 



The food of Europe was still regional. The products of other climates 
were still rarities, verging on luxury, except perhaps for sugar, the most 
important foodstuff imported from the tropics and the one whose 
sweetness has created more human bitterness than any other. In 
England (admittedly the most advanced country) the average annual 
consumption per head in the 1790s was 14 lb. But even in England the 
average per capita consumption of tea in the year of the French Revo¬ 
lution was hardly 2 ounces per month. 

The new crops imported from the Americas or other parts of the 
tropics had made some headway. In Southern Europe and the Balkans 
maize (Indian corn) was already quite widespread—it had helped fix 
mobile peasants to their plots in the Balkans—and in Northern Italy 
rice had made some progress. Tobacco was cultivated in various princi¬ 
palities, mostly as a government monopoly for revenue purposes, though 
its use by modern standards was negligible: the average Englishman 
in 1790 smoked, snuffed or chewed about one and a third ounces a 
month. Silkwork culture was common in parts of Southern Europe. 
The chief of the new crops, the potato, was only just making its way, 
except perhaps in Ireland where its ability to feed more people per acre 
at subsistence level than any other food had already made it a staple 
of cultivation. Outside England and the Low Countries the systematic 
cultivation of root and fodder crops (other than hay) was still rather 
exceptional; and only the Napoleonic wan brought about the massive 
production of beet for sugar. 

The eighteenth century was not, of course, one of agricultural stag¬ 
nation. On the contrary, a long era of demographic expansion, of 
growing urbanization, trade and manufacture, encouraged agricultural 
improvement and indeed required it. The second half of the century 
saw the beginning of that startling and henceforward unbroken rise in 
population which is so characteristic of the modern world: between 
1755 and 1784, for instance, the rural population of Brabant (Belgium) 
rose by 44 per cent. 10 But what impressed the numerous campaigners 
for agricultural improvement, who multiplied their societies, govern¬ 
ment reports and propagandist publications from Spain to Russia, was 
the size of the obstacles to agrarian advance rather than its progress. 


The world of agriculture was sluggish, except perhaps for its capitalist 
sector. That of commerce, manufactures, and the technological and 
intellectual activities which went with both, was confident, brisk and 
expansive, and the classes which benefited from them, active, deter- 



mined and optimistic. The contemporary observer would be most 
immediately struck by the vast deployment of trade, which was closely 
tied to colonial exploitation. A system of maritime trade currents, 
growing rapidly in volume and capacity, circled the earth, bringing its 
profits to the mercantile communities of North Atlantic Europe. They 
used colonial power to rob the inhabitants of the East Indies* of the 
commodities exported thence to Europe and Africa, where these and 
European goods were used to buy slaves for the rapidly growing planta¬ 
tion systems of the Americas. The American plantations in turn ex¬ 
ported their sugar, cotton, etc. in ever vaster and cheaper quantities to 
the Atlantic and North Sea ports whence they were redistributed east¬ 
wards, together with the traditional manufactures and commodities of 
European East-West trade: textiles, salt, wine and the rest. From ‘the 
Baltic’ in turn came the grain, timber, flax. From Eastern Europe came 
the grain, timber, flax and linen (a profitable export to the tropics), 
hemp and iron of this second colonial zone. And between the relatively 
developed economies of Europe—which included, economically speak¬ 
ing, the increasingly active communities of white settlers in the north¬ 
ern British colonies of America (after 1783, the Northern USA)—the 
web of trade became ever more dense. 

The nabob or planter returned from the colonies with wealth beyond 
the dreams of provincial avarice, the merchant and shipper whose 
splendid ports—Bordeaux, Bristol, Liverpool—had been built or rebuilt 
in the century, appeared to be the true economic victors of the age, 
comparable only with the great officials and financiers who drew their 
wealth from the profitable service of states, for this was still the age 
when the term ‘office of profit under the crown’ had its literal meaning. 
Beside him the middle class of lawyers, estate managers, local brewers, 
traders and the like, who accumulated a modest wealth from the agri¬ 
cultural world, lived low and quiet lives, and even the manufacturer 
appeared little better than a very poor relation. For though mining and 
manufactures were expanding rapidly, and in all parts of Europe, the 
merchant (and in Eastern Europe also often the feudal lord) remained 
their chief controllers. 

This was because the chief form of expanding industrial production 
was the so-called domestic or putting-out system, in which the merchant 
bought the products of the handicraftsman or of the part-time non- 
agricultural labour of the peasantry for sale in a wider market. The 
mere growth of such trade inevitably created rudimentary conditions 

* Also to some extent of the Far East, where they bought the tea, silks, china, etc. for which 
there was a growing European demand. But the political independence of China and Japan 
made this trade as yet a somewhat less piratical one. 



for an early industrial capitalism. The craftsman selling his wares might 
turn into little more than a worker paid on piece-rates (especially when 
the merchant supplied him with his raw material, and perhaps leased 
out productive equipment). The peasant who also wove might become 
the weaver who also had a small plot. Specialization of processes and 
functions might divide the old craft or create a complex of semi-skilled 
workers from among peasants. The old master-craftsmen, or some 
special group of crafts, or some group of local intermediaries might turn 
into something like subcontractors or employers. But the key controller 
of these decentralized forms of production, the one who linked the 
labour of lost villages or back streets with the world market, was some 
kind of merchant. And the ‘industrialists’ who were emerging or about 
to emerge from the ranks of the producers themselves were petty opera¬ 
tors beside him, even when they were not directly dependent upon him. 
There were a few exceptions, especially in industrial England. Iron¬ 
masters, men like the great potter Josiah Wedgwood, were proud and 
respected, their establishments visited by the curious from all over 
Europe. But the typical industrialist (the word had not yet been 
invented) was as yet a petty-officer rather than a captain of industry. 

Nevertheless, whatever their status, the activities of commerce and 
manufacture flourished brilliantly. The most brilliantly successful of 
eighteenth-century European states, Britain, plainly owed its power to 
its economic progress, and by the 1780s all continental governments 
with any pretence to a rational policy were consequently fostering 
economic growth, and especially industrial development, though with 
very varying success. The sciences, not yet split by nineteenth-century 
academicism into a superior ‘pure’ and an inferior ‘applied’ branch, 
devoted themselves to the solution of productive problems: the most 
striking advances of the 1780s were those of chemistry, which was by 
tradition most closely linked to workshop practice and the needs of 
industry. The Great Encyclopaedia of Diderot and d’Alembert was not 
merely a compendium of progressive social and political thought, but 
of technological and scientific progress. For indeed the conviction of 
the progress of human knowledge, rationality, wealth, civilization and 
control over nature with which the eighteenth century was deeply 
imbued, the ‘Enlightenment’, drew its strength primarily from the 
evident progress of production, trade, and the economic and scientific 
rationality believed to be associated inevitably with both. And its 
greatest champions were the economically most progressive classes, those 
most directly involved in the tangible advances of the time: the mer¬ 
cantile circles and economically enlightened landlords, financiers, 
scientifically-minded economic and social administrators, the educated 



middle class, manufacturers and entrepreneurs. Such men hailed a 
Benjamin Franklin, working printer and journalist, inventor, entre¬ 
preneur, statesman and shrewd businessman, as the symbol of the 
active, self-made, reasoning citizen of the future. Such men in England, 
where the new men had no need of transatlantic revolutionary incar¬ 
nations, formed the provincial societies out of which both scientific, 
industrial and political advance sprang. The Lunar Society of Birming¬ 
ham included the potter Josiah Wedgwood, the inventor of the 
modern steam engine James Watt and his business partner Matthew 
Boulton, the chemist Priestley, the gentleman-biologist and pioneer of 
evolutionary theories Erasmus Darwin (grandfather of a greater 
Darwin), the great printer Baskerville. Such men everywhere flocked 
into the lodges of Freemasonry, where class distinctions did not count 
and the ideology of the Enlightenment was propagated with a dis¬ 
interested zeal. 

It is significant that the two chief centres of the ideology were also 
those of the dual revolution, France and England; though in fact its 
ideas gained widest international currency in their French formulations 
(even when these were merely gallicized versions of British ones). 
A secular, rationalist and progressive individualism dominated ‘en¬ 
lightened’ thought. To set the individual free from the shackles which 
fettered him was its chief object: from the ignorant traditionalism of 
the Middle Ages, which still threw their shadow across the world, from 
the superstition of the churches (as distinct from ‘natural’ or ‘rational’ 
religion), from the irrationality which divided men into a hierarchy of 
higher and lower ranks according to birth or some other irrelevant 
criterion. Liberty, equality and (it followed) the fraternity of all men 
were its slogans. In due course they became those of the French Revo¬ 
lution. The reign of individual liberty could not but have the most 
beneficent consequences. The most extraordinary results could be 
looked for—could indeed already be observed to follow from—the 
unfettered exercise of individual talent in a world of reason. The 
passionate belief in progress of the typical ‘enlightened’ thinker reflected 
the visible increases in knowledge and technique, in wealth, welfare 
and civilization which he could see all round him, and which he 
ascribed with some justice to the growing advance of his ideas. At the 
beginning of his century witches were still widely burned; at its end 
enlightened governments like the Austrian had already abolished not 
only judicial torture but also slavery. What might not be expected if 
the remaining obstacles to progress such as the vested interests of 
feudality and church, were swept away? 

It is not strictly accurate to call the ‘enlightenment’ a middle class 



ideology, though there were many enlighteners—and politically they 
were the decisive ones—who assumed as a matter of course that the free 
society would be a capitalist society. 11 In theory its object was to 
set all human beings free. All progressive, rationalist and humanist 
ideologies are implicit in it, and indeed came out of it. Yet in practice 
the leaders of the emancipation for which the enlightenment called 
were likely to be the middle ranks of society, the new, rational men of 
ability and merit rather than birth, and the social order which would 
emerge from their activities would be a ‘bourgeois’ and capitalist one. 

It is more accurate to call the ‘enlightenment’ a revolutionary 
ideology, in spite of the political caution and moderation of many of its 
continental champions, most of whom—until the 1780s—put their 
faith in enlightened absolute monarchy. For illuminism implied the 
abolition of the prevailing social and political order in most of Europe. 
It was too much to expect the anciens regimes to abolish themselves 
voluntarily. On the contrary, as we have seen, in some respects they 
were reinforcing themselves against the advance of the new social and 
economic forces. And their strongholds (outside Britain, the United 
Provinces and a few other places where they had already been defeated) 
were the very monarchies to which moderate enlighteners pinned 
their faith. 


With the exception of Britain, which had made its revolution in the 
seventeenth century, and a few lesser states, absolute monarchies ruled in 
all functioning states of the European continent; those in which they did 
not rule fell apart into anarchy and were swallowed by their neighbours, 
like Poland. Hereditary monarchs by the grace of God headed hier¬ 
archies of landed nobles, buttressed by the traditional organization and 
orthodoxy of churches and surrounded by an increasing clutter of insti¬ 
tutions which had nothing but a long past to recommend them. It is 
true that the sheer needs of state cohesion and efficiency in an age of 
acute international rivalry had long obliged monarchs to curb the 
anarchic tendencies of their nobles and other vested interests, and to 
staff their state apparatus so far as possible with non-aristocratic civil 
servants. Moreover, in the latter part of the eighteenth century these 
needs, and the obvious international success of capitalist British power, 
led most such monarchs (or rather their advisers) to attempt pro¬ 
grammes of economic, social, administrative and intellectual modern¬ 
ization. In those days princes adopted the slogan of‘enlightenment’ as 
governments in our time, and for analogous reasons, adopt those of 



‘planning’; and as in our day some who adopted them in theory did 
very little about them in practice, and most who did so were less 
interested in the general ideals which lay behind the ‘enlightened’ 
(or the ‘planned’) society, than in the practical advantage of adopting 
the most up-to-date methods of multiplying their revenue, wealth and 

Conversely, the middle and educated classes and those committed to 
progress often looked to the powerful central apparatus of an ‘enlight¬ 
ened’ monarchy to realize their hopes. A prince needed a middle class 
and its ideas to modernize his state; a weak middle class needed a 
prince to batter down the resistance of entrenched aristocratic and 
clerical interests to progress. 

Yet in fact absolute monarchy, however modernist and innovatory, 
found it impossible—and indeed showed few signs of wanting—to 
break loose from the hierarchy of landed nobles to which, after all, it 
belonged, whose values it symbolized and incorporated, and on whose 
support it largely depended. Absolute monarchy, however theoretically 
free to do whatever it liked, in practice belonged to the world which the 
enlightenment had baptized fiodalitl or feudalism, a term later popu¬ 
larized by the French Revolution. Such a monarchy was ready to use 
all available resources to strengthen its authority and taxable revenue 
within and its power outside its frontiers, and this might well lead it to 
foster what were in effect the forces of the rising society. It was prepared 
to strengthen its political hand by playing off one estate, class or 
province against another. Yet its horizons were those of its history, its 
function and its class. It hardly ever wanted, and was never able to 
achieve, the root-and-branch social and economic transformation which 
the progress of the economy required and the rising social groups 
called for. 

To take an obvious example. Few rational thinkers, even among the 
advisers of princes, seriously doubted the need to abolish serfdom and 
the surviving bonds of feudal peasant dependence. Such a reform was 
recognized as one of the primary points of any ‘enlightened’ programme, 
and there was virtually no prince from Madrid to St Petersburg and 
from Naples to Stockholm who did not, at one time or another in the 
quarter-century preceding the French Revolution, subscribe to such a 
programme. Yet in fact the only peasant liberations which took place 
from above before 1789 were in small and untypical states like Denmark 
and Savoy, and on the personal estates of some other princes. One 
major such liberation was attempted, by Joseph II of Austria, in 1781; 
but it failed, in the face of the political resistance of vested interests and 
of peasant rebellion in excess of what had been anticipated, and had to 



remain uncompleted. What did abolish agrarian feudal relations all 
over Western and Central Europe was the French Revolution, by direct 
action, reaction or example, and the revolution of 1848. 

There was thus a latent, and would soon be an overt, conflict 
between the forces of the old and the new ‘bourgeois’ society, which 
could not be settled within the framework of the existing political 
regimes, except of course where these already embodied bourgeois 
triumph, as in Britain. What made these regimes even more vulnerable, 
was that they were subject to pressure from three directions: from the 
new forces, from the entrenched, and increasingly stiff resistance of the 
older vested interests, and from foreign rivals. 

Their most vulnerable point was the one where the opposition of old 
and new tended to coincide: in the autonomist movements of the 
remoter or the least firmly controlled provinces or colonies. Thus in the 
Habsburg monarchy the reforms of Joseph II in the 1780s produced 
uproar in the Austrian Netherlands (the present Belgium) and a revo¬ 
lutionary movement which in 1789 joined naturally with that of the 
French. More commonly, communities of white settlers in the overseas 
colonies of European states resented the policy of their central govern¬ 
ment, which subordinated the colonial interests strictly to the metro¬ 
politan. In all parts of the Americas, Spanish, French and British, as 
well as in Ireland, such settler movements demanded autonomy—not 
always for regimes which represented economically more progressive 
forces than the metropolis—and several British colonies either won it 
peacefully for a time, like Ireland, or took it by revolution, like the 
USA. Economic expansion, colonial development and the tensions of 
the attempted reforms of ‘enlightened absolutism’ multiplied the occa¬ 
sions for such conflicts in the 1770s and 1780s. 

In itself provincial or colonial dissidence was not fatal. Old-estab¬ 
lished monarchies could survive the loss of a province or two, and > the 
main victim of colonial autonomism, Britain, did not suffer from the 
weaknesses of the old regimes and therefore remained as stable and 
dynamic as ever in spite of the American revolution. There were few 
regions in which the purely domestic conditions for a major transfer of 
power existed. What made the situation explosive was international 

For international rivalry, i.e. war, tested the resources of a state as 
nothing else did. When they could not pass this test, they shook, cracked, 
or fell. One major such rivalry dominated the European international 
scene for most of the eighteenth century, and lay at the core of its 
recurrent periods of general war: 1689-1713, 1740-8, 1756-63, 
1776-83 and, overlapping into our period, 1792-1815. This was the 



Conflict between Britain and France, which was also, in a sense, that 
between the old and the new regimes. For France, though rousing 
British hostility by the rapid expansion of its trade and colonial empire, 
was also the most powerful, eminent and influential, in a word the 
classical, aristocratic absolute monarchy. Nowhere is the superiority of 
the new to the old social order more vividly exemplified than in the 
conflict between these two powers. For the British not only won, with 
varying degrees of decisiveness in all but one of these wars. They sup¬ 
ported the effort of organizing, financing and waging them with rela¬ 
tive ease. The French monarchy, on the other hand, though very much 
larger, more populous, and, in terms of her potential resources, wealthier 
than Britain, found the effort too great. After its defeat in the Seven 
Years’ War (1756-63) the revolt of the American colonies gave it the 
opportunity to turn the tables on its adversary. France took it. And 
indeed, in the subsequent international conflict Britain was badly 
defeated, losing the most important part of her American empire; and 
France, the ally of the new USA, was consequently victorious. But the 
cost was excessive, and the French government’s difficulties led it 
inevitably into that period of domestic political crisis, out of which, six 
years later, the Revolution emerged. 


It remains to round off this preliminary survey of the world on the eve 
of the dual revolution with a glance at the relations between Europe 
(or more precisely North-western Europe) and the rest of the world. The 
complete political and military domination of the world by Europe 
(and her overseas prolongations, the white settler communities) was to 
be the product of the age of the dual revolution. In the late eighteenth 
century several of the great non-European powers and civilizations still 
confronted the white trader, sailor and soldier on apparently equal 
terms. The great Chinese empire, then at the height of its effectiveness 
under the Manchu (Ch’ing) dynasty, was nobody’s victim. On the 
contrary, if anything the current of cultural influence ran from east to 
west, and European philosophers pondered the lessons of the very 
different but evidently high civilization, while artists and craftsmen 
embodied the often misunderstood motifs of the Far East in their works 
and adapted its new materials 4 (‘china’) to European uses. The Islamic 
powers, though (like Turkey) periodically shaken by the military 
forces of neighbouring European states (Austria and above all Russia), 
were far from the helpless hulks they were to become in the nineteenth 
century. Africa remained virtually immune to European military pene- 



tration. Except for small areas round the Cape of Good Hope, the 
whites were confined to coastal trading posts. 

Yet already the rapid and increasingly massive expansion of Euro¬ 
pean trade and capitalist enterprise undermined their social order; in 
Africa through the unprecedented intensity of the awful traffic in 
slaves, around the Indian Ocean through the penetration of the rival 
colonizing powers, in the Near and Middle East through trade and 
military conflict. Already direct European conquest began to extend 
significantly beyond the area long since occupied by the pioneer 
colonization of the Spaniards and Portuguese in the sixteenth century, 
the white North American settlers in the seventeenth. The crucial 
advance was made by the British, who had already established direct 
territorial control over part of India (notably Bengal), virtually over¬ 
throwing the Mughal empire, a step which was to lead them in our 
period to become the rulers and administrators of all India. Already 
the relative feebleness of the non-European civilizations when con¬ 
fronted with the technological and military superiority of the west 
was predictable. What has been called ‘the age of Vasco da Gama’, the 
four centuries of world history in which a handful of European states 
and the European force of capitalism established a complete, though 
as is now evident, a temporary, domination of the entire world, was 
about to reach its climax. The dual revolution was to make European 
expansion irresistible, though it was also to provide the non-European 
world with the conditions and equipment for its eventual counter¬ 




Such works, however their operations, causes, am/ consequences, have infinite merit, 
ant/ do great credit to the talents of this very ingenious and useful man, 10/10 «>f 7 / have 
the merit, wherever he goes, 0/ setting men to think. . . . G*/ rirf of that dronishy 
sleepy } and stupid indifference, that lazy negligence, which enchains men in the exact 
paths of their forefathers, without enquiry, without thought, and without ambition, 
and you are sure of doing good. What trains of thought, what a spirit of exertion, what 
a mass and power of effort have sprung in every path of life, from the works of such men 
as Brindley, Watt, Priestley, Harrison, Arkwright. ... In what path of life can a man 
be found that will not animate his pursuit from seeing the steam-engine of Watt? 

Arthur Young, Tours in England and Wales 1 
From this foul drain the greatest stream of human industry fiows out to fertilize the 
whole world. From this filthy sewer pure goldflows. Here humanity attains its most com¬ 
plete development and its most brutish, here civilization works its miracles and ciiilized 
man is turned almost into a savage. 

A. de Toqueville on Manchester in 1835* 


Let us begin with the Industrial Revolution, that is to say with 
Britain. This is at first sight a capricious starting-point, for the reper¬ 
cussions of this revolution did not make themselves felt in an obvious 
and unmistakable way—at any rate outside England—until quite late 
in our period; certainly not before 1830, probably not before 1840 or 
thereabouts. It is only in the 1830s that literature and the arts began 
to be overtly haunted by that rise of the capitalist society, that world 
in which all social bonds crumbled except the implacable gold and 
paper ones of the cash nexus (the phrase comes from Carlyle). Balzac’s 
Comtdie Humaine, the most extraordinary literary monument of its rise, 
belongs to that decade. It is not until about 1840 that the great stream 
of official and unofficial literature on the social effects of the Industrial 
Revolution begins to flow: the major Bluebooks and statistical enquiries 
in England, Villerme’s Tableau de I’etat physique el moral des ouvriers, 
Engels’s Condition of the Working Class in England, Ducpetiaux’s work in 
Belgium, and scores of troubled or appalled observers from Germany to 
Spain and the USA. It was not until the 1840s that the proletariat, that 
child of the Industrial Revolution, and Communism, which was now 



attached to its social movements—the spectre of the Communist 
Manifesto—walked across the continent. The very name of the Indus¬ 
trial Revolution reflects its relatively tardy impact on Europe. The 
thing existed in Britain before the word. Not until the 1820s did English 
and French socialists—themselves an unprecedented group—invent it, 
probably by analogy with the political revolution of France.® 

Nevertheless it is as well to consider it first, for two reasons. First, 
because in fact it ‘broke out’—to use a question-begging phrase—before 
the Bastille was stormed; and second because without it we cannot 
understand the impersonal groundswell of history on which the more 
obvious men and events of our period were borne; the uneven com¬ 
plexity of its rhythm. 

What does the phrase ‘the Industrial Revolution broke out’ mean? 
It means that some time in the 1780s, and for the first time in human 
history, the shackles were taken off the productive power of human 
societies, which henceforth became capable of the constant, rapid and 
up to the present limitless multiplication of men, goods and services. 
This is now technically known to the economists as the ‘take-off into 
self-sustained growth’. No previous society had been able to break 
through the ceiling which a pre-industrial social structure, defective 
science and technology, and consequently periodic breakdown, famine 
and death, imposed on production. The ‘take-off’ was not, of course, 
one of those phenomena which, like earthquakes and large meteors, 
take the non-technical world by surprise. Its pre-history in Europe can 
be traced back, depending on the taste of the historian and his par¬ 
ticular range of interest, to about ad 1000, if not before, and earlier 
attempts to leap into the air, clumsy as the experiments of young 
ducklings, have been flattered with the name of ‘industrial revolution’ 
—in the thirteenth century, in the sixteenth, in the last decades of the 
seventeenth. From the middle of the eighteenth century the process 
of gathering speed for the take-off is so clearly observable that older 
historians have tended to date the Industrial Revolution back to 1760. 
But careful enquiry has tended to lead most experts to pick on the 1780s 
rather than the 1760s as the decisive decade, for it was then that, so far 
as we can tell, all the relevant statistical indices took that sudden, 
sharp, almost vertical turn upwards which marks the ‘take-off’. The 
economy became, as it were, airborne. 

To call this process the Industrial Revolution is both logical and in 
line with a well-established tradition, though there was at one time a 
fashion among conservative historians—perhaps due to a certain shy¬ 
ness in the presence of incendiary concepts—to deny its existence, and 
substitute instead platitudinous terms like ‘accelerated evolution’. 



If the sudden, qualitative and fundamental transformation, which 
happened in or about the 1780s, was not a revolution then the word has 
no commonsense meaning. The Industrial Revolution was not indeed 
an episode with a beginning and an end. To ask when it was ‘complete’ 
is senseless, for its essence was that henceforth revolutionary change 
became the norm. It is still going on; at most we can ask when the 
economic transformations had gone far enough to establish a substan¬ 
tially industrialized economy, capable of producing, broadly speaking, 
anything it wanted within the range of the available techniques, a 
‘mature industrial economy’ to use the technical term. In Britain, and 
therefore in the world, this period of initial industrialization probably 
coincides almost exactly with the period with which this book deals, 
for if it began with the ‘take-off’ in the 1780s, it may plausibly be said 
to be concluded with the building of the railways and the construction 
of a massive heavy industry in Britain in the 1840s. But the Revolution 
itself, the ‘take-off period’, can probably be dated with as much pre¬ 
cision as is possible in such matters, to some time within the twenty 
years from 1780 to 1800: contemporary with, but slightly prior to, the 
French Revolution. 

By any reckoning this was probably the most important event in 
world history, at any rate since the invention of agriculture and cities. 
And it was initiated by Britain. That this was not fortuitous, is evident. 
If there was to be a race for pioneering the Industrial Revolution in the 
eighteenth century, there was really only one starter. There was plenty 
of industrial and commercial advance, fostered by the intelligent and 
economically far from naive ministers and civil servants of every en¬ 
lightened monarchy in Europe, from Portugal to Russia, all of whom 
were at least as much concerned with ‘economic growth’ as present-day 
administrators. Some small states and regions did indeed industrialize 
quite impressively for example, Saxony and the bishopric of Liege, 
though their industrial complexes were too small and localized to 
exert the world-revolutionary influence of the British ones. But it seems 
clear that even before the revolution Britain was already a long way 
ahead of her chief potential competitor in per capita output and trade, 
even if still comparable to her in total output and trade. 

Whatever the British advance was due to, it was not scientific and 
technological superiority. In the natural sciences the French were 
almost certainly ahead of the British; an advantage which the French 
Revolution accentuated very sharply, at any rate in mathematics and 
physics, for it encouraged science in France while reaction suspected 
it in England. Even in the social sciences the British were still far from 
that superiority which made—and largely kept—economics a pre- 



eminently Anglo-Saxon subject; but here the Industrial Revolution put 
them into unquestioned first place. The economist of the 1780s would 
read Adam Smith, but also—and perhaps more profitably—the French 
physiocrats and national income accountants, Quesnay, Turgot, 
Dupont de Nemours, Lavoisier, and perhaps an Italian or two. The 
French produced more original inventions, such as the Jacquard 
loom (1804) —a more complex piece of apparatus than any devised in 
Britain—and better ships. The Germans possessed institutions of tech¬ 
nical training like the Prussian Bergakademie which had no parallel in 
Britain, and the French Revolution created that unique and 
impressive body, the Ecole Poly technique. English education was a joke 
in poor taste, though its deficiencies were somewhat offset by the dour 
village schools and the austere, turbulent, democratic universities of 
Calvinist Scotland which sent a stream of brilliant, hard-working, 
career-seeking and rationalist young men into the south country: 
James Watt, Thomas Telford, Loudon McAdam, James Mill. Oxford 
and Cambridge, the only two English universities, were intellectually 
null, as were the somnolent public or grammar schools, with the 
exception of the Academies founded by the Dissenters who were ex¬ 
cluded from the (Anglican) educational system. Even such aristocratic 
families as wished their sons to be educated, relied on tutors or Scottish 
universities. There was no system of primary education whatever before 
the Quaker Lancaster (and after him his Anglican rivals) established 
a sort of voluntary mass-production of elementary literacy in the early 
nineteenth century, incidentally saddling English education forever 
after with sectarian disputes. Social fears discouraged the education of 
the poor. 

Fortunately few intellectual refinements were necessary to make the 
Industrial Revolution.* Its technical inventions were exceedingly 
modest, and in no way beyond the scope of intelligent artisans experi¬ 
menting in their workshops, or of the constructive capacities of 
carpenters, millwrights and locksmiths: the flying shuttle, the spinning 
jenny, the mule. Even its scientifically most sophisticated machine, 
James Watt’s rotary steam-engine (17.84), required no more physics 
than had been available for the best part of a century—the proper 

* ‘On the one hand it is gratifying to see that the English derive a rich treasure for their 
political life, from the study of the ancient authors, however pedantically this might be 
conducted; so much so that parliamentary orators not infrequently cited the ancients to good 
purpose, a practice which was favourably received by, and not without effect upon, their 
Assembly. On the other hand it cannot but amaze us that a country in which the manufac¬ 
turing tendencies are predominant, and hence the need to familiarize the people with the 
sciences and arts which advance these pursuits is evident, the absence of these subjects in the 
curriculum of youthful education is hardly noticed. It is equally astonishing how much is 
nevertheless achieved by men lacking any formal education for their professions.’ W. 
Wachsmuth, Europaeische SittengeschichU 5, 2 (Leipzig 1839), p. 736. 



theory of steam engines was only developed ex post facto by the French¬ 
man Carnot in the 1820s—and could build on several generations of 
practical employment for steam engines, mostly in mines. Given the 
right conditions, the technical innovations of the Industrial Revolu¬ 
tion practically made themselves, except perhaps in the chemical 
industry. This does not mean that early industrialists were not often 
interested in science and on the look-out for its practical benefits. 4 

But the right conditions were visibly present in Britain, where more 
than a century had passed since the first king had been formally tried 
and executed by his people, and since private profit and economic 
development had become accepted as the supreme objects of govern¬ 
ment policy. For practical purposes the uniquely revolutionary British 
solution of the agrarian problem had already been found. A relative 
handful of commercially-minded landlords already almost monopo¬ 
lized the land, which was cultivated by tenant-farmers employing 
landless or smallholders. A good many relics of the ancient collective 
economy of the village still remained to be swept away by Enclosure 
Acts (1760-1830) and private transactions, but we can hardly any 
longer speak of a ‘British peasantry’ in the same sense that we can 
speak of a French, German or Russian peasantry. Farming was already 
predominantly for the market; manufacture had long been diffused 
throughout an unfeudal countryside. Agriculture was already prepared 
to carry out its three fundamental functions in an era of industrializa¬ 
tion: to increase production and productivity, so as to feed a rapidly 
rising non-agricultural population; to provide a large and rising surplus 
of potential recruits for the towns and industries; and to provide a 
mechanism for the accumulation of capital to be used in the more 
modern sectors of the economy. (Two other functions were probably 
less important in Britain: that of creating a sufficiently large market 
among the agricultural population—normally the great mass of the 
people—and of providing an export surplus which helps to secure 
capital imports.) A considerable volume of social overhead capital— 
the expensive general equipment necessary for the entire economy to 
move smoothly ahead—was already being created, notably in shipping, 
port facilities, and the improvement of roads and waterways. Politics 
were already geared to profit. The businessman’s specific demands 
might encounter resistance from other vested interests; and as we shall 
see, the agrarians were to erect one last barrier to hold up the advance 
of the industrialists between 1795 and 1846. On the whole, however, it 
was accepted that money not only talked, but governed. All the indus¬ 
trialist had to get to be accepted among the governors of society was 
enough money. 

3 1 


The businessman was undoubtedly in the process of getting more 
money, for the greater part of the eighteenth century was for most of 
Europe a period of prosperity and comfortable economic expansion; 
the real background to the happy optimism of Voltaire’s Dr Pangloss. 
It may well be argued that sooner or later this expansion, assisted by a 
gentle inflation, would have pushed some country across the threshold 
which separates the pre-industrial from the industrial economy. But 
the problem is not so simple. Much of eighteenth-century industrial 
expansion did not in fact lead immediately, or within the foreseeable 
future, to industrial revolution, i.e. to the creation of a mechanized ‘factory 
system’ which in turn produces in such vast quantities and at such 
rapidly diminishing cost, as to be no longer dependent on existing 
demand, but to create its own market.* For instance the building trade, 
or the numerous small scale industries producing domestic metal goods 
—nails, pots, knives, scissors, etc.—in the British Midlands and York¬ 
shire, expanded very greatly in this period, but always as a function of 
the existing market. In 1850, while producing far more than in 1750, 
they produced in substantially the old manner. What was needed was 
not any kind of expansion, but the special kind of expansion which 
produced Manchester rather than Birmingham. 

Moreover, the pioneer industrial revolutions occurred in a special 
historical situation, in which economic growth emerges from the criss¬ 
crossing decisions of countless private entrepreneurs and investors, each 
governed by the first commandment of the age, to buy in the cheapest 
market and to sell in the dearest. How were they to discover that 
maximum profit was to be got out of organizing industrial revolution 
rather than out of more familiar (and in the past more profitable) 
business activities? How were they to learn, what nobody could as yet 
know, that industrial revolution would produce an unexampled accel¬ 
eration in the expansion of their markets? Given that the main social 
foundations of an industrial society had already been laid, as they 
almost certainly had in the England of the later eighteenth century, 
they required two things: first, an industry which already offered 
exceptional rewards for the manufacturer who could expand his output 
quickly, if need be by reasonably cheap and simple innovations, and 
second, a world market largely monopolized by a single producing 
nation, f 

* The modem motor industry is a good example of this. It is not the demand for motor¬ 
cars existing in the 1890s which created an industry of the modern size, but the capacity to 
produce cheap cars which produced the modem mass demand for them. 

t ‘Only slowly did purchasing power expand with population, income per head, transport 
costs ana restraints on trade. But the market was expanding, and the vital question was 
when would a producer of some mass consumption goods capture enough of it to allow fast 
and continuous expansion of their production.’ 5 



These considerations apply in some ways to all countries in our 
period. For instance, in all of them the lead in industrial growth was 
taken by the manufacturers of goods of mass consumption—mainly, 
but not exclusively, textiles*—because the mass market for such goods 
already existed, and businessmen could clearly see its possibilities of 
expansion. In other ways, however, they apply to Britain alone. For the 
pioneer industrialists have the most difficult problems. Once Britain 
had begun to industrialize, other countries could begin to enjoy the 
benefits of the rapid economic expansion which the pioneer industrial 
revolution stimulated. Moreover, British success proved what could be 
achieved by it, British technique could be imitated, British skill and 
capital imported. The Saxon textile industry, incapable of making its 
own inventions, copied the English ones, sometimes under the super¬ 
vision of English mechanics; Englishmen with a taste for the continent, 
like the Cockerills, established themselves in Belgium and various parts 
of Germany. Between 1789 and 1848 Europe and America were 
flooded with British experts, steam engines, cotton machinery and 

Britain enjoyed no such advantages. On the other hand it possessed 
an economy strong enough and a state aggressive enough to capture the 
markets of its competitors. In effect the wars of 1793-1815, the last and 
decisive phase of a century’s Anglo-French duel, virtually eliminated 
all rivals from the non-European world, except to some extent the 
young USA. Moreover, Britain possessed an industry admirably suited 
to pioneering industrial revolution under capitalist conditions, and an 
economic conjuncture which allowed it to: the cotton industry, and 
colonial expansion. 


The British, like all other cotton industries, had originally grown up 
as a by-product of overseas trade, which produced its raw material (or 
rather one of its raw materials, for the original product was fustian, a 
mixture of cotton and linen), and the Indian cotton goods or calicoes 
which won the markets that the European manufacturers were to 
attempt to capture with their own imitations. To begin with they were 
not very successful, though better able to reproduce the cheap and 
coarse goods competitively than the fine and elaborate ones. Fortu¬ 
nately, however, the old-established and powerful vested interest of the 
woollen trade periodically secured import prohibitions of Indian cali¬ 
coes (which the purely mercantile interest of the East India Company 
sought to export from India in the largest possible quantities), and 



thus gave the native cotton industry’s substitutes a chance. Cheaper 
than wool, cotton and cotton mixtures won themselves a modest but 
useful market at home. But their major chances of rapid expansion 
were to lie overseas. 

Colonial trade had created the cotton industry, and continued to 
nourish it. In the eighteenth century it developed in the hinterland of 
the major colonial ports, Bristol, Glasgow but especially Liverpool, the 
great centre of the slave trades. Each phase of his inhuman but rapidly 
expanding commerce stimulated it. In fact, during the entire period 
with which this book is concerned slavery and cotton marched together. 
The African slaves were bought, in part at least, with Indian cotton 
goods; but when the supply of these was interrupted by war or revolt in 
and about India, Lancashire was able to leap in. The plantations of the 
West Indies, where the slaves were taken, provided the bulk of the raw 
cotton for the British industry, and in return the planters bought Man¬ 
chester cotton checks in appreciable quantities. Until shortly before 
the ‘take-off’ the overwhelming bulk of Lancashire cotton exports went 
to the combined African and American markets. 7 Lancashire was later 
to repay its debt to slavery by preserving it; for after the 1790s the slave 
plantations of the Southern United States were extended and main¬ 
tained by the insatiable and rocketing demands of the Lancashire mills, 
to which they supplied the bulk of their raw cotton. 

The cotton industry was thus launched, like a glider, by the pull of 
the colonial trade to which it was attached; a trade which promised 
not only great, but rapid and above all unpredictable expansion, which 
encouraged the entrepreneur to adopt the revolutionary techniques 
required to meet it. Between 1750 and 1769 the export of British 
cottons increased more than ten times over. In such situations the 
rewards for the man who came into the market first with the most 
cotton checks were astronomical and well worth the risks of leaps into 
technological adventure. But the overseas market, and especially within 
it the poor and backward ‘under-developed areas’, not only expanded 
dramatically from time to time, but expanded constantly without 
apparent limit. Doubtless any given section of it, considered in isolation, 
was small by industrial standards, and the competition of the different 
‘advanced economies’ made it even smaller for each. But, as we have 
seen, supposing any one of the advanced economies managed, for a 
sufficiently long time, to monopolize all or almost all of it, then its 
prospects really were limitless. This is precisely what the British cotton 
industry succeeded in doing, aided by the aggressive support of the 
British Government. In terms of sales, the Industrial Revolution can be 
described except for a few initial years in the 1780s as the triumph of 



the export market over the home: by 1814 Britain exported about four 
yards of cotton cloth for every three used at home, by 1850 thirteen 
for every eight. 8 And within this expanding export market, in turn, the 
semi-colonial and colonial markets, long the main outlets for British 
goods abroad, triumphed. During the Napoleonic Wars, when the 
European markets were largely cut off by wars and blockades, this was 
natural enough. But even after the wars they continued to assert them¬ 
selves. In 1820 Europe, once again open to free British imports, took 
128 million yards of British cottons; America outside the USA, Africa 
and Asia took 80 millions; but by 1840 Europe took 200 million yards, 
while the ‘under-developed’ areas took 529 millions. 

For within these areas British industry had established a monopoly 
by means of war, other people’s revolutions and her own imperial rule. 
Two regions deserve particular notice. Latin America came to depend 
virtually entirely on British imports during the Napoleonic Wars, and 
after it broke with Spain and Portugal (see pp. 109-10, 239 below) it 
became an almost total economic dependency of Britain, being cut off 
from any political interference by Britain’s potential European com¬ 
petitors. By 1820 this impoverished continent already took more than a 
quarter as much of British cotton cloths as Europe; by 1840 it took 
almost half as much again as Europe. The East Indies had been, as we 
have seen, the traditional exporter of cotton goods, encouraged by the 
East India Company. But as the industrialist vested interest prevailed in 
Britain, the East India mercantile interests (not to mention the Indian 
ones) were pressed back. India was systematically deindustrialized and 
became in turn a market for Lancashire cottons: in 1820 the subcontinent 
took only 11 million yards; but by 1840 it already took 145 million 
yards. This was not merely a gratifying extension of Lancashire’s 
markets. It was a major landmark in world history. For since the dawn 
of time Europe had always imported more from the East than she had 
sold there; because there was little the Orient required from the West 
in return for the spices, silks, calicoes, jewels, etc., which it sent there. 
The cotton shirtings of the Industrial Revolution for the first time re¬ 
versed this relationship, which had been hitherto kept in balance by 
a mixture of bullion exports and robbery. Only the conservative and 
self-satisfied Chinese still refused to buy what the West, or western- 
controlled economies offered, until between 1815 and 1842 western 
traders, aided by western gun-boats, discovered an ideal commodity 
which could be exported en masse from India to the East: opium. 

Cotton therefore provided prospects sufficiently astronomical to tempt 
private entrepreneurs into the adventure of industrial revolution, and 
an expansion sufficiently sudden to require it. Fortunately it also pro- 



vided the other conditions which made it possible. The new inventions 
which revolutionized it—the spinning-jenny, the water-frame, the 
mule in spinning, a little later the power-loom in weaving—were suf¬ 
ficiently simple and cheap, and paid for themselves almost immediately 
in terms of higher output. They could be installed, if need be piecemeal, 
by small men who started off with a few borrowed pounds, for the men 
who controlled the great accumulations of eighteenth-century wealth 
were not greatly inclined to invest large amounts in industry. The 
expansion of the industry could be financed easily out of current profits, 
for the combination of its vast market conquests and a steady price- 
inflation produced fantastic rates of profit. ‘It was not five per cent or 
ten per cent,’ a later English politician was to say, with justice, ‘but 
hundreds per cent and thousands per cent that made the fortunes of 
Lancashire.’ In 1789 an ex-draper’s assistant like Robert Owen could 
start with a borrowed £100 in Manchester; by 1809 he bought out his 
partners in the New Lanark Mills for £84,000 in cash. And his was a 
relatively modest story of business success. It should be remembered 
that around 1800 less than 15 per cent of British families had an 
income of more than £50 per year, and of these only one-quarter 
earned more than £200 a year. 9 

But the cotton manufacture had other advantages. All its raw mat¬ 
erial came from abroad, and its supply could therefore be expanded by 
the drastic procedures open to white men in the colonies—slavery and 
the opening of new areas of cultivation—rather than by the slower 
procedures of European agriculture; nor was it hampered by the vested 
interests of European agriculturalists.* From the 1790s on British cotton 
found its supply, to which its fortunes remained linked until the 1860s, in 
the newly-opened Southern States of the USA. Again, at crucial points 
of manufacture (notably spinning) cotton suffered from a shortage of 
cheap and efficient labour, and was therefore pushed into mechaniza¬ 
tion. An industry like linen, which had initially rather better chances 
of colonial expansion than cotton, suffered in the long run from the 
very ease with which cheap, non-mechanized production could be 
expanded in the impoverished peasant regions (mainly in Central 
Europe, but also in Ireland) in which it mainly flourished. For the 
obvious way of industrial expansion in the eighteenth century, in Saxony 
and Normandy as in England, was not to construct factories, but to 
extend the so-called ‘domestic’ or ‘putting-out’ system, in which 
workers—sometimes former independent craftsmen, sometimes former 
peasants with time on their hands in the dead season—worked up the 

* Overseas supplies of wool, for instance, remained of negligible importance during our 
entire period, ana only became a major factor in the 1870s. 



raw material in their own homes, with their own or rented tools, 
receiving it from and delivering it back to merchants who were in the 
process of becoming employers.* Indeed, both in Britain and in the 
rest of the economically progressive world, the bulk of expansion in the 
initial period of industrialization continued to be of this kind. Even in 
the cotton industry such processes as weaving were expanded by 
creating hosts of domestic handloom weavers to serve the nuclei of 
mechanized spinneries, the primitive handloom being a rather more 
efficient device than the spinning-wheel. Everywhere weaving was 
mechanized a generation after spinning, and everywhere, incidentally, 
the handloom weavers died a lingering death, occasionally revolting 
against their awful fate, when industry no longer had any need of them. 


The traditional view which has seen the history of the British Industrial 
Revolution primarily in terms of cotton is thus correct. Cotton was the 
first industry to be revolutionized, and it is difficult to see what other 
could have pushed a host of private entrepreneurs into revolution. As 
late as the 1830s cotton was the only British industry in which the 
factory or ‘mill’ (the name was derived from the most widespread pre¬ 
industrial establishment employing heavy power-operated machinery) 
predominated; at first (1780-1815) mainly in spinning, carding and a 
few ancillary operations, after 1815 increasingly also in weaving. The 
‘factories’ with which the new Factory Acts dealt were, until the 1860s, 
assumed to be exclusively textile factories and predominantly cotton 
mills. Factory production in other textile branches was slow to develop 
before the 1840s, and in other manufactures was negligible. Even the 
steam engine, though applied to numerous other industries by 1815, 
was not used in any quantity outside mining, which had pioneered it. 
In 1830 ‘industry’ and ‘factory’ in anything like the modern sense still 
meant almost exclusively the cotton areas of the United Kingdom. 

This is not to underestimate the forces which made for industrial 
innovation in other consumer goods, notably in other textiles,! in food 
and drink, in pottery and other household goods, greatly stimulated 
by the rapid growth of cities. But in the first place these employed far 
fewer people: no industry remotely approached the million-and-a-half 

* The ‘domestic system’, which is a universa Jstage of manufacturing development on the 
road from home or craft production to modem industry, can take innumerable forms, some 
of which can come fairly close to the factory. If an eighteenth-century writer speaks of 
‘manufactures’ this is almost invariably and in all western countries what he means. 

t In all countries possessing any kind of marketable manufactures, textiles tended to 
predominate; in Silesia (1800) they formed 74 per cent of the value of all manufacture. 10 



people directly employed by or dependent on employment in cotton in 
1833. 11 In the second place their power to transform was much smaller: 
brewing, which was in most respects a technically and scientifically 
much more advanced and mechanized business, and one revolutionized 
well before cotton, hardly affected the economy around it, as may be 
proved by the great Guinness brewery in Dublin, which left the rest of 
the Dublin and Irish economy (though not local tastes) much as it 
was before its construction. 12 The demand derived from cotton—for 
more building and all activities in the new industrial areas, for mach¬ 
ines, for chemical improvements, for industrial lighting, for shipping 
and a number of other activities—is itself enough to account for a large 
proportion of the economic growth in Britain up to the 1830s. In the 
third place, the expansion of the cotton industry was so vast and its 
weight in the foreign trade of Britain so great, that it dominated the 
movements of the entire economy. The quantity of raw cotton imported 
into Britain rose from 11 million lb. in 1785 to 588 million lb. in 1850; 
the output of cloth from 40 million to 2,025 million yards. 13 Cotton 
manufactures formed between 40 and 50 per cent of the annual declared 
value of all British exports between 1816 and 1848. If cotton flourished, 
the economy flourished, if it slumped, so did the economy. Its price 
movements determined the balance of the nation’s trade. Only agri¬ 
culture had a comparable power, and that was visibly declining. 

Nevertheless, though the expansion of the cotton industry and the 
cotton-dominated industrial economy ‘mocks all that the most romantic 
imagination could have previously conceived possible under any cir¬ 
cumstances’, 14 its progress was far from smooth, and by the 1830s and 
early 1840s produced major problems of growth, not to mention revo¬ 
lutionary unrest unparalleled in any other period of recent British 
history. This first general stumbling of the industrial capitalist economy 
is reflected in a marked slowing down in the growth, perhaps even in 
a decline, in the British national income at this period. 16 Nor was this 
first general capitalist crisis a purely British phenomenon. 

Its most serious consequences were social: the transition to the new 
economy created misery and discontent, the materials of social revolu¬ 
tion. And indeed, social revolution in the form of spontaneous risings 
of the urban and industrial poor did break out, and made the revolu¬ 
tions of 1848 on the continent, the vast Chartist movement in Britain. 
Nor was discontent confined to the labouring poor. Small and inadapt- 
able businessmen, petty-bourgeois, special sections of the economy, 
were also the victims of the Industrial Revolution and of its ramifica¬ 
tions. Simple-minded labourers reacted to the new system by smashing 
the machines which they thought responsible for their troubles; but a 



surprisingly large body oflocal businessmen and farmers sympathized 
profoundly with these Luddite activities of their labourers, because 
they too saw themselves as victims of a diabolical minority of selfish 
innovators. The exploitation of labour which kept its incomes at sub¬ 
sistence level, thus enabling the rich to accumulate the profits which 
financed industrialization (and their own ample comforts), antagonized 
the proletarian. However, another aspect of this diversion of national 
income from the poor to the rich, from consumption to investment, 
also antagonized the small entrepreneur. The great financiers, the tight 
community of home and foreign ‘fund-holders’ who received what all 
paid in taxes (cf. chapter on War)—something like 8 per cent of the 
entire national income 16 —were perhaps even more unpopular among 
small businessmen, farmers and the like than among labourers, for 
these knew enough about money and credit to feel a personal rage at 
their disadvantage. It was all very well for the rich, who could raise 
all the credit they needed, to clamp rigid deflation and monetary 
orthodoxy on the economy after the Napoleonic Wars: it was the little 
man who suffered, and who, in all countries and at all times in the 
nineteenth century demanded easy credit and financial unorthodoxy.* 
Labour and the disgruntled petty-bourgeois on the verge of toppling 
over into the unpropertied abyss, therefore shared common discontents. 
These in turn united them in the mass movements of ‘radicalism’, 
‘democracy’ or ‘republicanism’ of which the British Radicals, the 
French Republicans and the American Jacksonian Democrats were 
the most formidable between 1815 and 1848. 

From the point of view of the capitalists, however, these social 
problems were relevant to the progress of the economy only if, by some 
horrible accident, they were to overthrow the social order. On the 
other hand there appeared to be certain inherent flaws of the economic 
process which threatened its fundamental motive-force: profit. For if 
the rate of return on capital fell to nothing, an economy in which men 
produced for profit only must slow down into that ‘stationary state’ 
which the economists envisaged and dreaded. 17 

The three most obvious of these flaws were the trade cycle of boom 
and slump, the tendency of the rate of profit to decline, and (what 
amounted to the same thing) the shortage of profitable investment 
opportunities. The first of these was not regarded as serious, except by 
the critics of capitalism as such, who were the first to investigate it and 
to consider it as an integral part of the capitalist economic process and 

* From the post-napoleonic Radicalism in Britain to the Populists in the USA, all protest 
movements including farmers and small entrepreneurs can be recognized by their demand 
for financial unorthodoxy: they were all ‘currency cranks\ 



as a symptom of its inherent contradictions.* Periodic crises of the 
economy leading to unemployment, falls in production, bankruptcies, 
etc. were well known. In the eighteenth century they generally reflected 
some agrarian catastrophe (harvest failures, etc.) and on the continent of 
Europe, it has been argued, agrarian disturbances remained the 
primary cause of the most widespread depressions until the end of our 
period. Periodic crises in the small manufacturing and financial sectors 
of the economy were also familiar, in Britain at least from 1793. After 
the Napoleonic Wars the periodic drama of boom and collapse-—in 
1825-6, in 1836-7, in 1839-42, in 1846-8—clearly dominate^' the 
economic life of a nation at peace. By the 1830s, that crucial decade in 
our period of history, it was vaguely recognized that they were regular 
periodic phenomena, at least in trade and finance. 18 However, they 
were still commonly regarded by businessmen as caused either by 
particular mistakes—e.g. overspeculation in American stocks—or by 
outside interference with the smooth operations of the capitalist economy. 
They were not believed to reflect any fundamental difficulties of the 

Not so the falling margin of profit, which the cotton industry illus¬ 
trated very clearly. Initially this industry benefited from immense 
advantages. Mechanization greatly increased the productivity (i.e. re¬ 
duced the cost per unit produced) of its labour, which was in any case 
abominably paid, since it consisted largely of women and children-! 
Of the 12,000 operatives in the cotton mills of Glasgow in 1833, only 
2,000 earned an average of over 1 u. a week. In 131 Manchester mills 
average wages were less than 1 2s., in only twenty-one were they higher. 19 
And the building of factories was relatively cheap: in 1846 an entire 
weaving plant of 410 machines, including the cost of ground and 
buildings, could be constructed for something like £ 11,000. 20 But 
above all the major cost, that of raw material, was drastically cut by 
the rapid expansion of cotton cultivation in the Southern USA after 
the invention of Eli Whitney’s cotton-gin in 1793. If we add that 
entrepreneurs enjoyed the bonus of a profit-inflation (i.e. the general 
tendency for prices to be higher when they sold their product than when 
they made it), we shall understand why the manufacturing classes 
felt buoyant, 

After 1815 these advantages appeared increasingly offset by the 

* The Swiss Simonde de Sismondi, and the conservative and country-minded Malthus, 
were the first to argue along these lines, even before 1825. The new socialists made their 
crisis-theory into a keystone of their critique of capitalism. 

t E. Baines in 1835 estimated the average wages of all the spinning and weaving operatives 
at 1 Of. a week—allowing for two unpaid weeks holiday a year—and of the handloom 
weavers at 7 s. 



narrowing margin of profit. In the first place industrial revolution and 
competition brought about a constant and dramatic fall in the price of 
the finished article but not in several of the costs of production. 21 In 
the second place after 1815 the general atmosphere of prices was one 
of deflation and not inflation, that is to say profits, so far from enjoying 
an extra boost, suffered from a slight lag. Thus, while in 1784 the 
selling-price of a lb. of spun yarn had been ioj. 1 id., the cost of its raw 
material 2 s. (margin, 8j. ii d.), in 1812 its price was 2 s. 6 d., its raw 
material cost u. 6 d. (margin ij.) and in 1832 its price 11 \d., its raw 
material cost l\d., and the margin for other costs and profits therefore 
only 4 d. M Of course the situation, which was general throughout 
British—and indeed all advanced—industry was not too tragic. ‘Profits 
are still sufficient’, wrote the champion and historian of cotton in 1835, 
in extreme understatement, ‘to allow of a great accumulation of capital 
in the manufacture.’ 28 As the total sales soared upwards, so did the 
total of profits even at their diminishing rate. All that was needed was 
continued and astronomic expansion. Nevertheless, it seemed that the 
shrinking of profit-margins had to be arrested or at least slowed down. 
This could only be done by cutting costs. And of all the costs wages — 
which McCulloch reckoned at three times the amount per year of the 
raw material—were the most compressible. 

They could be compressed by direct wage-cutting, by the substitution 
of cheaper machine-tenders for dearer skilled workers, and by the 
competition of the machine. This last reduced the average weekly 
wage of the handloom weaver in Bolton from 33J. in 1795 and 141. in 
1815 to 5.1. 6 d. (or more precisely a net income of 4r. 1 \d.) in 1829-34. 24 
And indeed money wages fell steadily in the post-Napoleonic period. 
But there was a physiological limit to such reductions, unless the 
labourers were actually to starve, as of course the 500,000 handloom 
weavers did. Only if the cost of living fell could wages also fall beyond 
that point. The cotton manufacturers shared the view that it was kept 
artificially high by the monopoly of the landed interest, made even 
worse by the heavy protective tariffs which a Parliament of landlords 
had wrapped around British farming after the wars—the Corn Laws. 
These, moreover, had the additional disadvantage of threatening the 
essential growth of British exports. For if the rest of the not yet indus¬ 
trialized world was prevented from selling its agrarian products, how 
was it to pay for the manufactured goods which Britain alone could— 
and had to—supply? Manchester business therefore became the centre 
of militant and increasingly desperate opposition to landlordism in 
general and the Corn Laws in particular and the backbone of the 
Anti-Corn Law League of 1838-46. But the Corn Laws were not 



abolished until 1846, their abolition did not immediately lead to a fall 
in the cost of living, and it is doubtful whether before the age of railways 
and steamers even free food-imports would have greatly lowered it. 

The industry was thus under immense pressure to mechanize (i.e. to 
lower costs by labour-saving) to rationalize and to expand its produc¬ 
tion and sales, thus making up by the mass of small profits per unit 
for the fall in the margins. Its success was variable. As we have 
seen the actual rise in production and exports was gigantic; so, after 
1815, was the mechanization of hitherto manual or partly-mechanized 
occupations, notably weaving. This took the form chiefly of the general 
adoption of existing or slightly improved machinery rather than of 
further technological revolution. Though the pressure for technical 
innovation increased significantly—there were thirty-nine new patents 
in cotton spinning, etc., in 1800-20, fifty-one in the 1820s, eighty-six in 
the 1830s and a hundred and fifty-six in the 1840s 25 —the British cotton 
industry was technologically stabilized by the 1830s. On the other 
hand, though the production per operative increased in the post- 
Napoleonic period, it did not do so to any revolutionary extent. The 
really substantial speed-up of operations was to occur in the second 
half of the century. 

There was comparable pressure on the rate of interest on capital, 
which contemporary theory tended to assimilate to profit. But considera¬ 
tion of this takes us to the next phase of industrial development—the 
construction of a basic capital-goods industry. 


It is evident that no industrial economy can develop beyond a certain 
point until it possesses adequate capital-goods capacity. This is why 
even today the most reliable single index of any country’s industrial 
potential is the quantity of its iron and steel production. But it is also 
evident that under conditions of private enterprise the extremely costly 
capital investment necessary for much of this development is not likely 
to be undertaken for the same reasons as the industrialization of cotton 
or other consumer goods. For these a mass market already exists, at 
least potentially: even very primitive men wear shirts or use household 
equipment and foodstuffs. The problem is merely how to put a suffi¬ 
ciently vast market sufficiently quickly within the purview of business¬ 
men. But no such market exists, e.g., for heavy iron equipment such as 
girders. It only comes into existence in the course of an industrial 
revolution (and not always then), and those who lock up their money 
in the very heavy investments required even by quite modest iron- 



works (compared to quite large cotton-mills) before it is visibly there, 
are more likely to be speculators, adventurers and dreamers than 
sound businessmen. In fact in France a sect of such speculative techno¬ 
logical adventurers, the Saint-Simonians (cf. pp. 176, 241), acted as 
chief propagandists of the kind of industrialization which needed heavy 
and long-range investment. 

These disadvantages applied particularly to metallurgy, especially 
of iron. Its capacity increased, thanks to a few simple innovations such 
as that of puddling and rolling in the 1780s, but the non-military 
demand for it remained relatively modest, and the military, though 
gratifyingly large thanks to a succession of wars between 1756 and 1815, 
slackened off sharply after Waterloo. It was certainly not large enough 
to make Britain into an outstandingly large producer of iron. In 1790 
she out-produced France by only forty per cent or so, and even in 1800 
her output was considerably less than half of the combined continental 
one, and amounted to the, by later standards, tiny figure of a quarter of 
a million tons. If anything the British share of world iron output tended 
to sink in the next decades. 

Fortunately they applied less to mining, which was chiefly the mining 
of coal. For coal had die advantage of being not merely the major source 
of industrial power in the nineteenth century, but also a major form of 
domestic fuel, thanks largely to the relative shortage of forests in 
Britain. The growth of cities, and especially of London, had caused 
coal mining to expand rapidly since the late sixteenth century. By the 
early eighteenth it was substantially a primitive modern industry, 
even employing the earliest steam engines (devised for similar purposes 
in non-ferrous metal mining, mainly in Cornwall) for pumping. Hence 
coal mining hardly needed or underwent major technological revolu¬ 
tion in our period. Its innovations were improvements rather than 
transformations of production. But its capacity was already immense 
and, by world standards, astronomic. In 1800 Britain may have pro¬ 
duced something like ten million tons of coal, or about 90 per cent of 
the world output. Its nearest competitor, France, produced less than 
a million. 

This immense industry, though probably not expanding fast enough 
for really massive industrialization on the modern scale, was sufficiently 
large to stimulate the basic invention which was to transform the capital 
goods industries: the railway. For the mines not only required steam 
engines in large quantities and of great power, but also required 
efficient means of transporting the great quantities of coal from coal¬ 
face to shaft and especially from pithead to the point of shipment. The 
‘tramway’ or ‘railway’ along which trucks ran v.'as an obvious answer; 



to pull these trucks by stationary engines was tempting; to pull them 
by moving engines would not seem too impractical. Finally, the costs 
of overland transport of bulk goods were so high that it was likely to 
strike coal-owners in inland fields that the use of these short-term means 
of transport could be profitably extended for long-term haulage. The 
line from the inland coalfield of Durham to the coast (Stockton- 
Darlington 1825) was the first of the modern railways. Technologically 
the railway is the child of the mine, and especially the northern 
English coalmine. George Stephenson began life as a Tyneside ‘engine- 
man’, and for years virtually all locomotive drivers were recruited from 
his native coalfield. 

No innovation of the Industrial Revolution has fired the imagination 
as much as the railway, as witness the fact that it is the only product of 
nineteenth century industrialization which has been fully absorbed 
into the imagery of popular and literate poetry. Hardly had they been 
proved technically feasible and profitable in England (c. 1825-30), 
before plans to build them were made over most of the Western world, 
though their execution was generally delayed. The first short lines 
were opened in the USA in 1827, in France in 1828 and 1835, in 
Germany and Belgium in 1835 and even in Russia by 1837. The reason 
was doubtless that no other invention revealed the power and speed of 
the new age to the layman as dramatically; a revelation made all the 
more striking by the remarkable technical maturity of even the very 
earliest railways. (Speeds of up to sixty miles per hour, for instance, 
were perfectly practicable in the 1830s, and were not substantially im¬ 
proved by later steam-railways.) The iron road, pushing its huge 
smoke-plumed snakes at the speed of wind across countries and conti¬ 
nents, whose embankments and cuttings, bridges and stations, formed 
a body of public building beside which the pyramids and the Roman 
aqueducts and even the Great Wall of China paled into provincialism, 
was the very symbol of man’s triumph through technology. 

In fact, from an economic point of view, its vast expense was its 
chief advantage. No doubt in the long run its capacity to open up 
countries hitherto cut off by high transport costs from the world 
market, the vast increase in the speed and bulk of overland communi¬ 
cation it brought for men and goods, were to be of major importance. 
Before 1848 they were economically less important: outside Britain 
because railways were few, in Britain because for geographical reasons 
transport problems were much less intractable then in large landlocked 
countries.* But from the perspective of the student of economic develop- 

♦ No point in Britain is more than 70 miles from the sea, and all the chief industrial 
areas of the nineteenth century, with one exception, are either on the sea or within easy 
reach of it 



ment the immense appetite of the railways for iron and steel, for coal, 
for heavy machinery, for labour, for capital investment, was at this 
stage more important. For it provided just that massive demand which 
was needed if the capital goods industries were to be transformed as 
profoundly as the cotton industry had been. In the first two decades 
of the railways (1830-50) the output of iron in Britain rose from 
680,000 to 2,250,000, in other words it trebled. The output of coal 
between 1830 and 1850 also trebled from 15 million tons to 49 million 
tons. That dramatic rise was due primarily to the railway, for on 
average each mile of line required 300 tons of iron merely for track. 28 
The industrial advances which for the first time made the mass pro¬ 
duction of steel possible followed naturally in the next decades. 

The reason for this sudden, immense, and quite essential expansion 
lay in the apparently irrational passion with which businessmen and 
investors threw themselves into the construction of railways. In 1830 
there were a few dozen miles of railways in all the world—chiefly 
consisting of the line from Liverpool to Manchester. By 1840 there were 
over 4,500 miles, by 1850 over 23,500. Most of them were projected 
in a few bursts of speculative frenzy known as the ‘railway manias’ of 
1835-7 an d especially in 1844-7; most °f them were built in large part 
with British capital, British iron, machines and know-how.* These 
investment booms appear irrational, because in fact few railways were 
much more profitable to the investor than other forms of enterprise, 
most yielded quite modest profits and many none at all: in 1855 the 
average interest on capital sunk in the British railways was a mere 
3 • 7 per cent. No doubt promoters, speculators and others did exceed¬ 
ingly well out of them, but the ordinary investor clearly did not. And 
•yet by 1840 £28 millions, by 1850 £240 millions had been hopefully 
invested in them. 28 

Why? The fundamental fact about Britain in the first two generations 
of the Industrial Revolution was, that the comfortable and rich classes 
accumulated income so fast and in such vast quantities as to exceed 
all available possibilities of spending and investment. (The annual 
"investible surplus in the 1840s was reckoned at about £60 millions. 24 ) 
No doubt feudal and aristocratic societies would have succeeded in 
throwing a great deal of this away in riotous living, luxury building 
and other uneconomic activities, f Even in Britain the sixth Duke of 
Devonshire, whose normal income was princely enough succeeded in 
leaving his heir £ 1,000,000 of debts in the mid-nineteenth century 

* In 1848 one third of the capital in the French railways was British.* 7 

f Of course such spending also stimulates the economy, but very inefficiently, and hardly 
at all in the direction of industrial growth. 



(which he paid off by borrowing another^ 1,500,000 and going in for 
the development of real estate values) 30 . But the bulk of the middle 
classes, who formed the main investing public, were still savers rather 
than spenders, though by 1840 there are many signs that they felt 
sufficiently wealthy to spend as well as to invest. Their wives began to 
turn into ‘ladies’, instructed by the handbooks of etiquette which 
multiply about this period, their chapels began to be rebuilt in ample 
and expensive styles, and they even began to celebrate their collective 
glory by constructing those shocking town halls and other civic mon¬ 
strosities in Gothic and Renaissance imitations, whose exact and 
Napoleonic cost their municipal historians recorded with pride.* 

Again, a modern socialist or welfare society would no doubt have 
distributed some of these vast accumulations for social purposes. In our 
period nothing was less likely. Virtually untaxed, the middle classes 
therefore continued to accumulate among the hungry populace, whose 
hunger was the counterpart of their accumulation. And as they were 
not peasants, content to hoard their savings in woollen stockings or as 
golden bangles, they had to find profitable investment for them. But 
where? Existing industries, for instance, had become far too cheap to 
absorb more than a fraction of the available surplus for investment: 
even supposing the size of the cotton industry to be doubled, the capital 
cost would absorb only a part of it. What was needed was a sponge 
large enough to hold all of it.f 

Foreign investment was one obvious possibility. The rest of the 
world-—mostly, to begin with, old governments seeking to recover from 
the Napoleonic Wars and new ones borrowing with their usual dash 
and abandon for indeterminate purposes—was only too anxious for 
unlimited loans. The English investor lent readily. But alas, the South 
American loans which appeared so promising in the 1820s, the North 
American ones which beckoned in the 1830s, turned only too often into 
scraps of worthless paper: of twenty-five foreign government loans sold 
between 1818 and 1831, sixteen (involving about half of the £42 
millions at issue prices) were in default in 1831. In theory these loans 
should have paid the investor 7 or 9 per cent; in fact in 1831 he received 
an average of 3 • 1 per cent. Who would not be discouraged by experi¬ 
ences such as those with the Greek 5 per cent loans of 1824 and 1825 
which did not begin to pay any interest at all until the 1870s? 32 Hence 
it is natural that the capital flooding abroad in the speculative booms 

* A few cities with eighteenth century traditions never ceased public building; but a 
typical new industrial metropolis like Bolton in Lancashire built practically no conspicuous 
and non-utilitarian structures before 1847-8. 31 

f The total capital—fixed and working—of the cotton industry was estimated by 
McCulloch at £34 millions in 1833, £47 millions in 1845. 



of 1825 and 1835-7, should seek an apparently less disappointing 

John Francis, looking back on the mania from 1851, described the 
rich man who ‘saw the accumulation of wealth, which with an indus¬ 
trial people always outstrips the ordinary modes of investment, legiti¬ 
mately and justly employed ... He saw the money which in his youth 
had been thrown into war loans and in his manhood wasted on South 
American mines, forming roads, employing labour and increasing 
business. (The railway’s) absorption of capital was at least an absorp¬ 
tion, if unsuccessful, in the country that produced it. Unlike foreign 
mines and foreign loans, they could not be exhausted or utterly value¬ 
less.’ 33 

Whether it could have found other forms of home investment—for 
instance in building—is an academic question to which the answer is 
still in doubt. In fact it found the railways, which could not conceivably 
have been built as rapidly and on as large a scale without this torrent 
of capital flooding into them, especially in the middle 1840s. It was a 
lucky conjuncture, for the railways happened to solve virtually all the 
problems of the economy’s growth at once. 


To trace the impetus for industrialization is only one part of the his¬ 
torian’s task. The other is to trace the mobilization and redeployment of 
economic resources, the adaptation of the economy and the society 
which were required to maintain the new and revolutionary course. 

The first and perhaps the most crucial factor which had to be mobi¬ 
lized and redeployed was labour, for an industrial economy means a 
sharp proportionate decline in the agricultural (i.e. rural) and a sharp 
rise in the non-agricultural (i.e. increasingly in the urban) population, 
and almost certainly (as in our period) a rapid general increase in 
population. It therefore implies in the first instance a sharp rise in the 
supply of food, mainly from home agriculture—i.e. an ‘agricultural 

The rapid growth of towns and non-agricultural settlements in 
Britain had naturally long stimulated agriculture, which is fortunately 
so inefficient in its pre-industrial forms that quite small improvements 
—a little rational attention to animal-husbandry, crop-rotation, ferti¬ 
lization and the lay-out of farms, or the adoption of new crops—can 

* Before the age of railway and the steamship—i.e. before the end of our period—the 
possibility of importing vast quantities of food from abroad was limited, though Britain 
became on balance a net importer of food from the 1780s. 



produce disproportionately large results. Such agricultural change had 
preceded the industrial revolution and made possible the first stages of 
rapid population increases, and the impetus naturally continued, 
though British farming suffered heavily in the slump which followed 
the abnormally high prices of the Napoleonic Wars. In terms of tech¬ 
nology and capital investment the changes of our period were probably 
fairly modest until the 1840s, the period when agricultural science and 
engineering may be said to have come of age. The vast increase in 
output which enabled British farming in the 1830s to supply 98 per cent 
of the grain for a population between two and three times the mid¬ 
eighteenth century size, 34 was achieved by general adoption of methods 
pioneered in the earlier eighteenth century, by rationalization and by 
expansion of the cultivated area. 

All these in turn were achieved by social rather than technological 
transformation: by the liquidation of medieval communal cultivation 
with its open field and common pasture (the ‘enclosure movement’), 
of self-sufficient peasant farming, and of old-fashioned uncommercial 
attitudes towards the land. Thanks to the preparatory evolution of the 
sixteenth to eighteenth centuries this uniquely radical solution of the 
agrarian problem, which made Britain a country of a few large land- 
owners, a moderate number of commercial tenant farmers and a great 
number of hired labourers, was achieved with a minimum of trouble, 
though intermittently resisted not only by the unhappy rural poor but 
by the traditionalist country gentry. The ‘Speenhamland System’ of 
poor relief, spontaneously adopted by gentlemen-justices in several 
counties in and after the hungry year of 1795, has been seen as the last 
systematic attempt to safeguard the old rural society against the cor¬ 
rosion of the cash nexus.* The Corn Laws with which the agrarian 
interest sought to protect farming against the post-1815 crisis, in the 
teeth of all economic orthodoxy, were in part a manifesto against 
the tendency to treat agriculture as an industry just like any 
other, to be judged by the criteria of profitability alone. But these were 
doomed rearguard actions against the final introduction of capitalism 
into the countryside; they were finally defeated in the wave of middle 
class radical advance after 1830, by the new Poor Law of 1834 and 
the abolition of the Corn Laws in 1846. 

In terms of economic productivity this social transformation was an 
immense success; in terms of human suffering, a tragedy, deepened by 
the agricultural depression after 1815 which reduced the rural poor to 

* Under it the poor were to be guaranteed a living wage by subsidies from the rates where 
necessary; the system, though well-intentioned, eventually led to even greater pauperization 
than before. 



demoralized destitution. After 1800 even so enthusiastic a champion of 
enclosure and agricultural progress as Arthur Young was shaken by its 
social effects. 36 But from the point of view of industrialization these 
also were desirable consequences; for an industrial economy needs 
labour, and where else but from the former non-industrial sector was it 
to come from? The rural population at home or, in the form of (mainly 
Irish) immigration, abroad, were the most obvious sources supple¬ 
mented by the miscellaneous petty producers and labouring poor.* 
Men must be attracted into the new occupations, or if—as was most 
probable—they were initially immune to these attractions and unwilling 
to abandon their traditional way of life 36 —they must be forced into it. 
Economic and social hardship was the most effective whip; the higher 
money wages and greater freedom of the town the supplementary 
carrot. For various reasons the forces tending to prise men loose from 
their historic social anchorage were still relatively weak in our period, 
compared to the second half of the nineteenth century. It took a 
really sensational catastrophe such as the Irish hunger to produce the 
sort of massive emigration (one and a half millions out of a total 
population of eight and a half millions in 1835-50) which became 
common after 1850. Nevertheless, they were stronger in Britain than 
elsewhere. Had they not been, British industrial development might 
have been as hampered as that of France was by the stability and rela¬ 
tive comfort of its' peasantry and petty-bourgeoisie, which deprived 
industry of the required intake of labour.f 

To acquire a sufficient number of labourers was one thing; to acquire 
sufficient labour of the right qualifications and skills was another. 
Twentieth century experience has shown that this problem is as crucial 
and more difficult to solve. In the first place all labour had to learn 
how to work in a manner suited to industry, i.e. in a rhythm of regular 
unbroken daily work which is entirely different from the seasonal ups 
and downs of the farm, or the self-controlled patchiness of the inde¬ 
pendent craftsman. It had also to learn to be responsive to monetary 
incentives, British employers then, like South African ones now, con¬ 
stantly complained about the ‘laziness’ of labour or its tendency to 
work until it had earned a traditional week’s living wage and then to 

* Another view holds that the labour supply comes not from such transfers, but from the 
rise in the total population, which as we know was increasing very rapidly. But this is to 
miss the point. In an industrial economy not only the numbers, but the proportion of the 
non-agricultural labour force must increase steeply. This means that men and women who 
would otherwise have stayed in the village and lived as their forefathers did, must move 
elsewhere at some stage of their lives, for the towns grow faster than their own natural rate 
of increase, which in any case tended normally to be lower than the villages. This is so 
whether the farming population actually diminishes, holds its numbers, or even increases. 

t Alternatively, like the USA, Britain would have had to rely on massive immigration. In 
fact she did rely partly on the immigration of the Irish. 



stop. The answer was found in a draconic labour discipline (fines, a 
‘Master and Servant’ code mobilizing the law on the side of the em¬ 
ployer, etc.), but above all in the practice where possible of paying 
labour so little that it would have to work steadily all through the week 
in order to make a minimum income (cf. pp. 198-9). In the factories, 
where the problem of labour discipline was more urgent, it was often 
found more convenient to employ the tractable (and cheaper) women 
and children: out of all workers in the English cotton mills in 1834-47 
about one-quarter were adult men, over half women and girls and the 
balance, boys below the age of eighteen. 87 Another common way of 
ensuring labour discipline, which reflected the small-scale, piece-meal 
process of industrialization in this early phase, was sub-contract or the 
practice of making skilled workers the actual employers of their un¬ 
skilled helpers. In the cotton industry, for instance, about two-thirds 
of the boys and one-third of the girls were thus ‘in the direct employ of 
operatives’ and hence more closely watched, and outside the factories 
proper such arrangements were even more widespread. The sub¬ 
employer, of course, had a direct financial incentive to see that this 
hired help did not slack. 

It was rather more difficult to recruit or train sufficient skilled or 
technically trained workers, for few pre-industrial skills were of much 
use in modem industry, though of course many occupations, like 
building, continued practically unchanged. Fortunately the slow semi¬ 
industrialization of Britain in the centuries before x 789 had built up a 
rather large reservoir of suitable skills, both in textile technique and in 
the handling of metals. Thus on the continent the locksmith, one of 
the few craftsmen used to precision work with metals, became the 
ancestor of the machine-builder and sometimes provided him with a 
name, whereas in Britain the millwright, and the ‘engineer’ or ‘engine- 
man’ (already common in and around mines) did so. Nor is it accidental 
that the English word ‘engineer’ describes both the skilled metal-worker 
and the designer and planner; for the bulk of higher technologists 
could be, and was, recruited from among these mechanically skilled 
and self-reliant men. In fact, British industrialization relied on this 
unplanned supply of the higher skills, as continental industrialism could 
not. This explains the shocking neglect of general and technical educa¬ 
tion in this country, the price of which was to be paid later. 

Beside such problems of labour supply, those of capital supply were 
unimportant. Unlike most other European countries, there was no 
shortage of immediately investible capital in Britain. The major diffi¬ 
culty was that those who controlled most of it in the eighteenth century 
—landlords, merchants, shippers, financiers, etc.—were reluctant to 



invest it in the new industries, which therefore had often to be started by 
small savings or loans and developed by the ploughing back of profits. 
Local capital shortage made the early industrialists—especially the 
self-made men—harder, thriftier and more grasping, and their workers 
therefore correspondingly more exploited; but this reflected the imper¬ 
fect flow of the national investment surplus and not its inadequacy. On 
the other hand the eighteenth-century rich were prepared to sink their 
money in certain enterprises which benefited industrialization; most 
notably in transport (canals, dock facilities, roads and later also rail¬ 
ways) and in mines, from which landowners drew royalties even when 
they did not themselves manage them. 

Nor was there any difficulty about the technique of trade and finance, 
private or public. Banks and banknotes, bills of exchange, stocks and 
shares, the technicalities of overseas and wholesale trade, and marketing, 
were familiar enough and men who could handle them or easily learn 
to do so, were in abundant supply. Moreover, by the end of the 
eighteenth century government policy was firmly committed to the 
supremacy of business. Older enactments to the contrary (such as 
those of the Tudor social code) had long fallen into desuetude, and were 
finally abolished—except where they touched agriculture—in 1813-35. 
In theory the laws and financial or commercial institutions of Britain 
were clumsy and designed to hinder rather than help economic develop¬ 
ment; for instance, they made expensive ‘private acts’ of Parliament 
necessary almost every time men wished to form a joint-stock company. 
The French Revolution provided the French—and through their in¬ 
fluence the rest of the continent—with far more rational and effective 
machinery for such purposes. In practice the British managed perfectly 
well, and indeed considerably better than their rivals. 

In this rather haphazard, unplanned and empirical way the first 
major industrial economy was built. By modern standards it was small 
and archaic, and its archaism still marks Britain today. By the standards 
of 1848 it was monumental, though also rather shocking, for its new 
cities were uglier, its proletariat worse off, than elsewhere,* and the 
fog-bound, smoke-laden atmosphere in which pale masses hurried to 
and fro troubled the foreign visitor. But it harnessed the power of a 
million horses in its steam-engines, turned out two million yards of cotton 
cloth per year on over seventeen million mechanical spindles, dug 
almost fifty million tons of coal, imported and exported £ 1 70 millions 
worth of goods in a single year. Its trade was twice that of its nearest 
competitor, France: in 1780 it had only just exceeded it. Its cotton 

* ‘On the whole the condition of the working class seems distinctly worse in England than 
in France in 1830-48/ concludes a modem historian. 38 

5 ‘ 


consumption was twice that of the USA, four times the French. It pro¬ 
duced more than half the total pig-iron of the economically developed 
world, and used twice as much per inhabitant as the next-most indus¬ 
trialized country (Belgium), three times as much as the USA, more 
than four times as much as France. Between £200 and £300 million 
of British capital investment—a quarter in the USA, almost a fifth in 
Latin America—brought back dividends and orders from all parts of 
the world. 39 It was, in fact, the ‘workshop of the world’. 

And both Britain and the world knew that the Industrial Revolution 
launched in these islands by and through the traders and entrepreneurs, 
whose only law was to buy in the cheapest market and sell without 
restriction in the dearest, was transforming the world. Nothing could 
stand in its way. The gods and kings of the past were powerless before 
the businessmen and steam-engines of the present. 




An Englishman not filled with esteem and admiration at the sublime manner in 
which one of the most IMPORTANT REVOLUTIONS the world has ever seen is 
now effecting , must be dead to every sense of virtue and of freedom; not one of my 
countrymen who has had the good fortune to witness the transactions of the last three 
days in this great city, but will testify that my language is not hyperbolical. 

The Morning Post (July 21, 1789) on the fall of the Bastille 

Soon the enlightened nations will put on trial those who have hitherto ruled over 
them. The kings shall fee into the deserts , into the company of the wild beasts whom 
they resemble; and Nature shall resume her rights. 

Saint-Just. Sur la Constitution de la France , Discours prononci d la Convention 
24 avril 1793 


I f the economy of the nineteenth century world was formed mainly 
under the influence of the British Industrial Revolution, its politics and 
ideology were formed mainly by the French. Britain provided the 
model for its railways and factories, the economic explosive which 
cracked open the traditional economic and social structures of the non- 
European world; but France made its revolutions and gave them their 
ideas, to the point where a tricolour of some kind became the emblem of 
virtually every emerging nation, and European (or indeed world) 
politics between 1789 and 1917 were largely the struggle for and against 
the principles of 1789, or the even more incendiary ones of 1793. France 
provided the vocabulary and the issues of liberal and radical-demo¬ 
cratic politics for most of the world. France provided the first great 
example, the concept and the vocabulary of nationalism. France pro¬ 
vided the codes of law, the model of scientific and technical organiza¬ 
tion, the metric system of measurement for most countries. The ideology 
of the modern world first penetrated the ancient civilizations which had 
hitherto resisted European ideas through French influence. This was 
the work of the French Revolution.* 

♦ This difference between the British and French influences should not be pushed too far. 
Neither centre of the dual revolution confined its influence to any special field of human 
activity, and the two were complementary rather than competitive. However, even when 
both converged most clearly—as in socialism , which was almost simultaneously invented and 
named in both countries—they converged from somewhat different directions. 



The later eighteenth century, as we have seen, was an age of crisis 
for the old regimes of Europe and their economic systems, and its last 
decades were filled with political agitations sometimes reaching the point 
of revolt, of colonial movements for autonomy sometimes reaching that 
of secession: not only in the USA (1776-83), but also in Ireland 
(1782-4), in Belgium and Liege (1787-90), in Holland (1783-7), in 
Geneva, even—it has been argued—in England (1779). So striking is 
this clustering of political unrest that some recent historians have 
spoken of an ‘age of democratic revolution’ of which the French was 
only one, though the most dramatic and far-reaching. 1 

Insofar as the crisis of the old regime was not purely a French 
phenomenon, there is some weight in such observations. Just so it may 
be argued that the Russian Revolution of 1917 (which occupies a 
position of analogous importance in our century) was merely the most 
dramatic of a whole cluster of similar movements, such as those which 
—some years before 1917—finally ended the age-old Turkish and 
Chinese empires. Yet this-is to miss the point. The French Revolution 
may not have been an isolated phenomenon, but it was far more funda¬ 
mental than any of the other contemporary ones and its consequences 
were therefore far more profound. In the first place, it occurred in the 
most powerful and populous state of Europe (leaving Russia apart). In 
1789 something like one European out of every five was a Frenchman. 
In the second place it was, alone of all the revolutions which preceded 
and followed it, a mass social revolution, and immeasurably more 
radical than any comparable upheaval. It is no accident that the 
American revolutionaries, and the British ‘Jacobins’ who migrated to 
France because of their political sympathies, found themselves mod¬ 
erates in France. Tom Paine was an extremist in Britain and America; 
but in Paris he was among the most moderate of the Girondins. The 
results of the American revolutions were, broadly speaking, countries 
carrying on much as before, only minus the political control of the 
British, Spaniards and Portuguese. The result of the French Revolution 
was that the age of Balzac replaced the age of Mme Dubarry. 

In the third place, alone of all the contemporary revolutions, the 
French was ecumenical. Its armies set out to revolutionize the world; its 
ideas actually did so. The American revolution has remained a crucial 
event in American history, but (except for the countries directly in¬ 
volved in and by it) it has left few major traces elsewhere. The French 
Revolution is a landmark in all countries. Its repercussions rather than 
those of the American revolution, occasioned the risings which led to 
the liberation of Latin America after 1808. Its direct influence radiated 
as far as Bengal, where Ram Mohan Roy was inspired by it to found the 



first Hindu reform movement and the ancestor of modern Indian 
nationalism. (When he visited England in 1830, he insisted on travelling 
in a French ship to demonstrate his enthusiasm for its principles.) It 
was, as has been well said, ‘the first great movement of ideas in Western 
Christendom that had any real effect on the world of Islam’, 2 and that 
almost immediately. By the middle of the nineteenth century the 
Turkish word ‘vatan’, hitherto merely describing a man’s place of birth 
or residence, had begun to turn under its influence into something like 
‘patrie’; the term ‘liberty’, before 1800 primarily a legal term denoting 
the opposite to ‘slavery’, had begun to acquire a new political content. 
Its indirect influence is universal, for it provided the pattern for all 
subsequent revolutionary movements, its lessons (interpreted according 
to taste) being incorporated into modern socialism and communism.* 

The French Revolution thus remains the revolution of its time, and 
not merely one, though the most prominent, of its kind. And its origins 
must therefore be sought not merely in the general conditions of 
Europe, but in the specific situation of France. Its peculiarity is perhaps 
best illustrated in international terms. Throughout the eighteenth 
century France was the major international economic rival of Britain. 
Her foreign trade, which multiplied fourfold between 1720 and 1780, 
caused anxiety; her colonial system was in certain areas (such as the 
West Indies) more dynamic than the British. Yet France was not a 
power like Britain, whose foreign policy was already determined sub¬ 
stantially by the interests of capitalist expansion. She was the most 
powerful and in many ways the most typical of the old aristocratic 
absolute monarchies of Europe. In other words, the conflict between 
the official framework and the vested interests of the old regime and 
the rising new social forces was more acute in France than elsewhere. 

The new forces knew fairly precisely what they wanted. Turgot, the 
physiocrat economist, stood for an efficient exploitation of the land, for 
free enterprise and trade, for a standardized, efficient administration 
of a single homogeneous national territory, and the abolition of all 
restrictions and social inequalities which stood in the way of the develop¬ 
ment of national resources and rational, equitable administration and 
taxation. Yet his attempt to apply such a programme as the first minis¬ 
ter of Louis XVII in 1774-6 failed lamentably, and the failure is 
characteristic. Reforms of this character, in modest doses, were not 
incompatible with or unwelcome to absolute monarchies. On the con¬ 
trary, since they strengthened their hand, they were, as we have seen, 

* This is not to underestimate the influence of the American Revolution. It undoubtedly 
helped to stimulate the French, and in a narrower sense provided co.istitutional models—in 
competition and sometimes alternation with the French—for various Latin American states, 
and inspiration for democratic-radical movements from time to time. 



widely propagated at this time among the so-called ‘enlightened 
despots’. But in most of the countries of ‘enlightened despotism’ such 
reforms were either inapplicable, and therefore mere theoretical flour¬ 
ishes, or unlikely to change the general character of their political and 
social structure; or else they failed in the face of the resistance of the 
local aristocracies and other vested interests, leaving the country to 
relapse into a somewhat tidied-up version of its former state. In France 
they failed more rapidly than elsewhere, for the resistance of the vested 
interests was more effective. But the results of this failure were more 
catastrophic for the monarchy; and the forces of bourgeois change 
were far too strong to relapse into inactivity. They merely transformed 
their hopes from an enlightened monarchy to the people or ‘the 

Nevertheless, such a generalisation does not take us far towards an 
understanding of why the revolution broke out when it did, and why it 
took the remarkable road it did. For this it is most useful to consider 
the so-called ‘feudal reaction’ which actually provided the spark to 
explode the powder-barrel of France. 

The 400,000 or so persons who, among the twenty-three million 
Frenchmen, formed the nobility, the unquestioned ‘first order’ of the 
nation, though not so absolutely safeguarded against the intrusion of 
lesser orders as in Prussia and elsewhere, were secure enough. They 
enjoyed considerable privileges, including exemption from several takes 
(but not from as many as the better-organized clergy), and the right to 
receive feudal dues. Politically their situation was less brilliant. Abso¬ 
lute monarchy, while entirely aristocratic and even feudal in its ethos, 
had deprived the nobles of political independence and responsibility 
and cut down their old representative institutions—estates and parle- 
ments —so far as possible. The fact continued to rankle among the 
higher aristocracy and among the more recent noblesse de robe created by 
the kings for various purposes, mostly finance and administration; an 
ennobled government middle class which expressed the double dis¬ 
content of aristocrats and bourgeois so far as it could through the 
surviving law-courts and estates. Economically the nobles’ worries were 
by no means negligible. Fighters rather than earners by birth and tra¬ 
dition—nobles were even formally debarred from exercising a trade or 
profession—they depended on the income of their estates, or, if they 
belonged to the favoured minority of large or court nobles, on wealthy 
marriages, court pensions, gifts and sinecures. But the expenses of noble 
status were large and rising, their incomes—since they were rarely 
businesslike managers of their wealth, if they managed it at all—fell. 
Inflation tended to reduce the value of fixed revenues such as rents. 



It was therefore natural that the nobles should use their one main 
asset, the acknowledged privileges of the order. Throughout the eigh¬ 
teenth century, in France as in many other countries, they encroached 
steadily upon the official posts wliich the absolute monarchy had pre¬ 
ferred to fill with technically competent and politically harmless middle 
class men. By the 1780s four quarterings of nobility were needed even 
to buy a commission in the army, all bishops were nobles and even the 
keystone of royal administration, the intendancies, has been largely 
recaptured by them. Consequently the nobility not merely exasperated 
the feelings of the middle class by their successful competition for 
official posts; they also undermined the state itself by an increasing 
tendency to take over provincial and central administration. Similarly 
they—and especially the poorer provincial gendemen who had few 
other resources—attempted to counteract the decline in their income 
by squeezing the utmost out of their very considerable feudal rights to 
exact money (or more rarely service) from the peasantry. An entire 
profession, the feudists, came into existence to revive obsolete rights of 
this kind or to maximize the yield of existing ones. Its most celebrated 
member, Gracchus Babeuf, was to become the leader of the first com¬ 
munist revolt in modern history in 1796. Consequently the nobility 
exasperated not only the middle class but also the peasantry. 

The position of this vast class, comprising perhaps 80 per cent of all 
Frenchmen, was far from brilliant. They were indeed in general free, 
and often landowners. In actual quantity noble estates covered only 
one-fifth of the land, clerical estates perhaps another 6 per cent with 
regional variations. 3 Thus in the diocese of Montpellier the peasants 
already owned 38 to 40 per cent of the land, the bourgeoisie 18 to 19, 
the nobles 15 to 16, the clergy 3 to 4, while one-fifth was common land. 1 
In fact, however, the great majority were landless or with insufficient 
holdings, a deficiency increased by the prevailing technical backward¬ 
ness; and the general land-hunger was intensified by the rise in popu¬ 
lation. Feudal dues, tithes and taxes took a large and rising proportion 
of the peasant’s income, and inflation reduced the value of the re¬ 
mainder. For only the minority of peasants who had a constant surplus 
for sale benefited from the rising prices; the rest, in one way or another, 
suffered from them, especially in times of bad harvest, when famine 
prices ruled. There is little doubt that in the twenty years preceding 
the Revolution the situation of the peasants grew worse for these 

The financial troubles of the monarchy brought matters to a head. 
The administrative and fiscal structure of the kingdom was grossly 
obsolete, and, as we have seen, the attempt to remedy this by the 



reforms of 1774-6 failed, defeated by the resistance of vested interests 
headed by the parlements. Then France became involved in the American 
War of Independence. Victory over England was gained at the cost of 
final bankruptcy, and thus the American Revolution can claim to be 
the direct cause of the French. Various expedients were tried with 
diminishing success, but nothing short of a fundamental reform, which 
mobilized the real and considerable taxable capacity of the country 
could cope with a situation in which expenditure outran revenue by at 
least 20 per cent, and no effective economies were possible. For though 
the extravagance of Versailles has often been blamed for the crisis, 
court expenditure only amounted to 6 per cent of the total in 1788. 
War, navy and diplomacy made up one-quarter, the service of the 
existing debt one-half. War and debt—the American War and its debt 
—broke the back of the monarchy. 

The government’s crisis gave the aristocracy and the parlements their 
chance. They refused to pay without an extension of their privileges. 
The first breach in the front of absolutism was a hand-picked but 
nevertheless rebellious ‘assembly of notables’ called in' 1787 to grant 
the government’s demands. The second, and decisive, was the des¬ 
perate decision to call the States-General—the old feudal assembly of 
the realm, buried since 1614. The Revolution thus began as an aristo¬ 
cratic attempt to recapture the state. This attempt miscalculated for 
two reasons: it underestimated the independent intentions of the ‘Third 
Estate’—the fictional entity deemed to represent all who were neither 
nobles nor clergy, but in fact dominated by the middle class—and it 
overlooked the profound economic and social crisis into which it threw 
its political demands. 

The French Revolution was not made or led by a formed party or 
movement in the modern sense, nor by men attempting to carry out a 
systematic programme. It hardly even threw up ‘leaders’ of the kind to 
which twentieth century revolutions have accustomed us, until the 
post-revolutionary figure of Napoleon. Nevertheless a striking consensus 
of general ideas among a fairly coherent social group gave the revolu¬ 
tionary movement effective unity. The group was the ‘bourgeoisie’; its 
ideas were those of classical liberalism, as formulated by the ‘philoso¬ 
phers’ and ‘economists’ and propagated by freemasonry and in informal 
associations. To this extent ‘the philosophers’ can be justly made 
responsible for the Revolution. It would have occurred without them; 
but they probably made the difference between a mere breakdown of 
an old regime and the effective and rapid substitution of a new one. 

In its most general form the ideology of 1789 was the masonic one 
expressed with such innocent sublimity in Mozart’s Magic Flute (1791), 



one of the earliest of the great propagandist works of art of an age 
whose highest artistic achievements so often belonged to propaganda. 
More specifically, the demands of the bourgeois of 1789 are laid down in 
the famous Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizens of that year. 
This document is a manifesto against the hierarchical society of noble 
privilege, but not one in favour of democratic or egalitarian society. 
‘Men are born and live free and equal under the laws,’ said its first 
article; but it also provides for the existence of social distinctions, if 
‘only on grounds of common utility’. Private property was a natural 
right, sacred, inalienable and inviolable. Men were equal before the 
law and careers were equally open to talent; but if the race started 
without handicaps, it was equally assumed that the runners would not 
finish together. The declaration laid down (as against the noble hier¬ 
archy or absolutism) that ‘all citizens have a right to co-operate in the 
formation of the law’; but ‘either personally or through their repre¬ 
sentatives’. And the representative assembly which it envisaged as the 
fundamental organ of government was not necessarily a democratically 
elected one, nor the regime it implied one which eliminated kings. 
A constitutional monarchy based on a propertied oligarchy expressing 
itself through a representative assembly was more congenial to most 
bourgeois liberals than the democratic republic which might have 
seemed a more logical expression of their theoretical aspirations; though 
there were some who did not hesitate to advocate this also. But on the 
whole the classical liberal bourgeois of 1789 (and the liberal of 1789— 
1848) was not a democrat but a believer in constitutionalism, a secular 
state with civil liberties and guarantees for private enterprise, and 
government by tax-payers and property-owners. 

Nevertheless officially such a regime would express not simply his 
class interests, but the general will of ‘the people’, which was in turn 
(a significant identification) ‘the French nation’. The king was no 
longer Louis, by the Grace of God, King of France and Navarre, but 
Louis, by the Grace of God and the constitutional law of the state, 
King of the French. ‘The source of all sovereignty,’ said the Declara¬ 
tion, ‘resides essentially in the nation.’ And the nation, as Abb6 Sieyes 
put it, recognized no interest on earth above its own, and accepted no 
law or authority other than its own—neither that of humanity at large 
nor of other nations. No doubt the French nation, and its subsequent 
imitators, did not initially conceive of its interests clashing with those 
of other peoples, but on the contrary saw itself as inaugurating, or 
taking part in, a movement of the general liberation of peoples from 
tyranny. But in fact national rivalry (for instance that of French busi¬ 
nessmen with British businessmen) and national subordination (for 



instance that of conquered or liberated nations to the interests of 
la grande nation ) were implicit in the nationalism to which the bourgeois 
of 1789 gave its first official expression. ‘The people’ identified with ‘the 
nation’ was a revolutionary concept; more revolutionary than the 
bourgeois-liberal programme which purported to express it. But it was 
also a double-edged one. 

Since the peasants and labouring poor were illiterate, politically 
modest or immature and the process of election indirect, 610 men, 
mosdy of this stamp, were elected to represent the Third Estate. Most 
were lawyers who played an important economic role in provincial 
France; about a hundred were capitalists and businessmen. The middle 
class had fought bitterly and successfully to win a representation as 
large as that of the nobility and clergy combined, a moderate ambition 
for a group officially representing 95 per cent of the people. They now 
fought with equal determination for the right to exploit their potential 
majority votes by turning the States General into an assembly of indi¬ 
vidual deputies voting as such, instead of the traditional feudal body 
deliberating and voting by ‘orders’, a situation in which nobility and 
clergy could always outvote the Third. On this issue the first revolu¬ 
tionary break-through occurred. Some six weeks after the opening of 
the States General the Commons, anxious to forestall action by king, 
nobles and clergy, constituted themselves and all who were prepared 
to join them on their own terms a National Assembly with the right 
to recast the constitution. An attempt at counter-revolution led them 
to formulate their claims virtually in terms of the English House of 
Commons. Absolutism was at an end as Mirabeau, a brilliant and 
disreputable ex-noble, told the King: ‘Sire, you are a stranger in this 
assembly, you have not the right to speak here.’ 6 

The Third Estate succeeded, in the face of the united resistance 
of the king and the privileged orders, because it represented not merely 
the views of an educated and militant minority, but of far more power¬ 
ful forces: the labouring poor of the cities, and especially of Paris, and 
shortly, also, the revolutionary peasantry. For what turned a limited 
reform agitation into a revolution was the fact that the calling of the 
States-General coincided with a profound economic and social crisis. 
The later 1780s had been, for a complexity of reasons, a period of great 
difficulties for virtually all branches of the French economy. A bad 
harvest in 1788 (and 1789) and a very difficult winter made this crisis 
acute. Bad harvests hurt the peasantry, for while they meant that large 
producers could sell grain at famine prices, the majority of men on their 
insufficient holdings might well have to eat up their seed-corn, or buy 
food at such prices, especially in months immediately preceding the new 



harvest (i.e. May-July). They obviously hurt the uiban poor, whose 
cost of living—bread was the staple food—might well double. It hurt 
them all the more as the impoverishment of the countryside reduced the 
market for manufactures and therefore also produced an industrial 
depression. The country poor were therefore desperate and restless with 
riot and banditry; the urban poor were doubly desperate as work ceased 
at the very moment that the cost of living soared. Under normal circum¬ 
stances little more than blind-rioting might have occurred. But in 1788 
and 1789 a major convulsion in the kingdom, a campaign of propaganda 
and election, gave the people’s desperation a political perspective. 
They introduced the tremendous and earth-shaking idea of liberation 
from gentry and oppression. A riotous people stood behind the deputies 
of the Third Estate. 

Counter-revolution turned a potential mass rising into an actual 
one. Doubtless it was only natural that the old regime should have 
fought back, if necessary with armed force; though the army was no 
longer wholly reliable. (Only unrealistic dreamers can suggest that 
Louis XVI might have accepted defeat and immediately turned him¬ 
self into a constitutional monarch, even if he had been a less negligible 
and stupid man than he was, married to a less chicken-brained and 
irresponsible woman, and prepared to listen to less disastrous advisers.) 
In fact counter-revolution mobilized the Paris masses, already hungry, 
suspicious and militant. The most sensational result of their mobiliza¬ 
tion was the capture of the Bastille, a state prison symbolizing royal 
authority, where the revolutionaries expected to find arms. In times of 
revolution nothing is more powerful than the fall of symbols. The 
capture of the Bastille, which has rightly made July 14th into the 
French national day, ratified the fall of despotism and was hailed all 
over the world as the beginning of liberation. Even the austere philoso¬ 
pher Immanuel Kant of Koenigsberg, it is said, whose habits were so 
regular that the citizens of that town set their watches by him, post¬ 
poned the hour of his afternoon stroll when he received the news, thus 
convincing Koenigsberg that a world-shaking event had indeed hap¬ 
pened. What i3 more to the point, the fall of the Bastille spread the 
revolution to the provincial towns and the countryside. 

Peasant revolutions are vast, shapeless, anonymous, but irresistible 
movements. What turned an epidemic of peasant unrest into an irre¬ 
versible convulsion was a combination of provincial town risings and a 
wave of mass panic, spreading obscurely but rapidly across vast 
stretches of the country: the so-called Grande Peur of late July and early 
August 1789. Within three weeks of July 14th the social structure of 
French rural feudalism and the state machine of royal France lay in 



fragments. All that remained of state power was a scattering of doubt¬ 
fully reliable regiments, a National Assembly without coercive force, 
and a multiplicity of municipal or provincial middle class adminis¬ 
trations which soon set up bourgeois armed ‘National Guards’ on the 
model of Paris. Middle class and aristocracy immediately accepted the 
inevitable: all feudal privileges were officially abolished though, when 
the political situation had settled, a stiff price for their redemption was 
fixed. Feudalism was not finally abolished until 1793. By the end of 
August the Revolution had also acquired its formal manifesto, the 
Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen. Conversely, the king 
resisted with his usual stupidity, and sections of the middle class revolu¬ 
tionaries, frightened by the social implications of the mass upheaval, 
began to think that the time for conservatism had come. 

In brief, the main shape of French and all subsequent bourgeois¬ 
revolutionary politics were by now clearly visible. This dramatic dia¬ 
lectical dance was to dominate the future generations. Time and again 
we shall see moderate middle class reformers mobilizing the masses 
against die-hard resistance or counter-revolution. We shall see the 
masses pushing beyond the moderates’ aims to their own social revolu¬ 
tions, and the moderates in turn splitting into a conservative group 
henceforth making common cause with the reactionaries, and a left 
wing group determined to pursue the rest of the as yet unachieved 
moderate aims with the help of the masses, even at the risk of losing 
control over them. And so on through repetitions and variations of the 
pattern of resistance—mass mobilization—shift to the left—split- 
among-moderates-and-shift-to-the-right—until either the bulk of the 
middle class passed into the henceforth conservative camp, or was 
defeated by social revolution In most subsequent bourgeois revolutions 
the moderate liberals were to pull back, or transfer into the conservative 
camp, at a very early stage. Indeed in the nineteenth century we increas¬ 
ingly find (most notably in Germany) that they became unwilling to 
begin revolution at all, for fear of its incalculable consequences, pre¬ 
ferring a compromise with king and aristocracy. The peculiarity of the 
French Revolution is that one section oi the liberal middle class was 
prepared to remain revolutionary up to and indeed beyond the brink 
of anti-bourgeois revolution: these were the Jacobins, whose name 
came to stand for ‘radical revolution’ everywhere. 

Why? Partly, of course, because the French bourgeoisie had not yet, 
like subsequent liberals, the awful memory of the French Revolution to 
be frightened of. After 1794 it would be clear to moderates that the 
Jacobin regime had driven the Revolution too far for bourgeois comfort 
and prospects, just as it would be clear to revolutionaries that ‘the sun 



of 1793’, if it were to rise again, would have to shine on a non-bourgeois 
society. Again, the Jacobins could afford radicalism because in their 
time no class existed which could provide a coherent social alternative 
to theirs. Such a class only arose in the course of the industrial revolu¬ 
tion, with the ‘proletariat’ or, more precisely, with the ideologies and 
movements based on it. In the French Revolution the working class— 
and even this is a misnomer for the aggregate of hired, but mostly non¬ 
industrial, wage-earners—as yet played no significant independent part. 
They hungered, they rioted, perhaps they dreamed; but for practical 
purposes they followed non-proletarian leaders. The peasantry never 
provides a political alternative to anyone; merely, as occasion dictates, 
an almost irresistible force or an almost immovable object. The only 
alternative to bourgeois radicalism (if we except small bodies of ideo¬ 
logues or militants powerless when deprived of mass support) were the 
‘Sansculottes’, a shapeless, mostly urban movement of the labouring 
poor, small craftsmen, shopkeepers, artisans, tiny entrepreneurs and 
the like. The Sansculottes were organized, notably in the ‘sections’ of 
Paris and the local political clubs, and provided the main striking-force 
of the revolution—the actual demonstrators, rioters, constructors of 
barricades. Through journalists like Marat and Hubert, through local 
spokesmen, they also formulated a policy, behind which lay a vaguely 
defined and contradictory social ideal, combining respect for (small) 
private property with hostility to the rich, government-guaranteed 
work, wages and social security for the poor man, an extreme, egali¬ 
tarian and libertarian democracy, localized and direct. In fact the 
Sansculottes were one branch of that universal and important political 
trend which sought to express the interests of the great mass of ‘little 
men’ who existed between the poles of the ‘bourgeois’ and the ‘prole¬ 
tarian’, often perhaps rather nearer the latter than the former because 
they were, after all, mostly poor. We can observe it in the United 
States (as Jeffersonianism and Jacksonian democracy, or populism) 
in Britain (as ‘radicalism’), in France (as the ancestors of the future 
‘republicans’ and radical-socialists), in Italy (as Mazzinians and Gari- 
baldians), and elsewhere. Mostly it tended to settle down, in post¬ 
revolutionary ages, as a left-wing of middle-class liberalism, but one 
loth to abandon the ancient principle that there are no enemies on the 
left, and ready, in times of crisis, to rebel against ‘the wall of money’ or 
‘the economic royalists’ or ‘the cross of gold crucifying mankind’. But 
Sansculottism provided no real alternative either. Its ideal, a golden 
past of villagers and small craftsmen or a golden future of small farmers 
and artisans undisturbed by bankers and millionaires, was unrealizable. 
History moved dead against them. The most they could do—and this 



they achieved in 1793-4—was to erect roadblocks in its path, which 
have hampered French economic growth from that day almost to this. 
In fact Sansculottism was so helpless a phenomenon that its very name 
is largely forgotten, or remembered only as a synonym of Jacobinism, 
which provided it with leadership in the year II. 


Between 1789 and 1791 the victorious moderate bourgeoisie, acting 
through what had now become the Constituent Assembly, set about the 
gigantic rationalization and reform of France which was its object. 
Most of the lasting institutional achievements of the Revolution date 
from this period, as do its most striking international results, the metric 
system and the pioneer emancipation of the Jews. Economically the 
perspectives of the Constituent Assembly were entirely liberal: its 
policy for the peasantry was the enclosure of common lands and the 
encouragement of rural entrepreneurs, for the working-class, the ban¬ 
ning of trade unions, for the small crafts, the abolition of guilds and 
corporations. It gave little concrete satisfaction to the common people, 
except, from 1790, by means of the secularization and sale of church lands 
(as well as those of the emigrant nobility) which had the triple advan¬ 
tage of weakening clericalism, strengthening the provincial and peasant 
entrepreneur, and giving many peasants a measurable return for their 
revolutionary activity. The Constitution of 1791 fended off excessive 
democracy by a system of constitutional monarchy based on an admit¬ 
tedly rather wide property-franchise of ‘active citizens’. The passive, it 
was hoped, would live up to their name. 

In fact, this did not happen. On the one hand the monarchy, though 
now strongly supported by a powerful ex-revolutionary bourgeois fac¬ 
tion, could not resign itself to the new regime. The Court dreamed of 
and intrigued for a crusade of royal cousins to expel the governing 
rabble of commoners and restore God’s anointed, the most Catholic 
king of France, to his rightful place. The Civil Constitution of the 
Clergy (1790), a misconceived attempt to destroy, not the Church, but 
the Roman absolutist allegiance of the Church, drove the majority of 
the clergy and of their faithful into opposition, and helped to drive the 
king into the desperate, and as it proved suicidal, attempt to flee the 
country. He was recaptured at Varennes (June 1791) and henceforth 
republicanism became a mass force; for traditional kings who abandon 
their peoples lose the right to loyalty. On the other hand, the uncon¬ 
trolled free enterprise economy of the moderates accentuated the 
fluctuations in the level of food-prices, and consequently the militancy 



of the urban poor, especially in Paris. The price of bread registered the 
political temperature of Paris with the accuracy of a thermometer; and 
the Paris masses were the decisive revolutionary force: not for nothing 
was the new French tricolour constructed by combining the old royal 
white with the red-and-blue colours of Paris. 

The outbreak of war brought matters to a head; that is to say it led 
to the second revolution of 1792, the Jacobin Republic of the Year II, 
and eventually to Napoleon. In other words it turned the history of 
the French Revolution into the history of Europe. 

Two forces pushed France into a general war: the extreme right and 
the moderate left. For the king, the French nobility and the growing 
aristocratic and ecclesiastical emigration, camped in various West 
German cities, it was evident that only foreign intervention could 
restore the old regime.* Such intervention was not too easily organized, 
given the complexities of the international situation, and the relative 
political tranquillity of other countries. However, it was increasingly 
evident to nobles and divinely appointed rulers elsewhere that the 
restoration of Louis XVI’s power was not merely an act of class soli¬ 
darity, but an important safeguard against the spread of the appalling 
ideas propagated from France. Consequently the forces for the recon¬ 
quest of France gathered abroad. 

At the same time the moderate liberals themselves, most notably the 
group of politicians clustering round the deputies from the mercantile 
Gironde department, were a bellicose force. This was partly because 
every genuine revolution tends to be ecumenical. For Frenchmen, as 
for their numerous sympathisers abroad, the liberation of France was 
merely the first instalment of the universal triumph of liberty; an 
attitude which led easily to the conviction that it was the duty of the 
fatherland of revolution to liberate all peoples groaning under oppres¬ 
sion and tyranny. There was a genuinely exalted and generous passion 
to spread freedom among the revolutionaries, moderate and extreme; 
a genuine inability to separate the cause of the French nation from that 
of all enslaved humanity. Both the French and all other revolutionary 
movements were to accept this view, or to adapt it, henceforth until at 
least 1848. All plans for European liberation until 1848 hinged on a 
joint rising of peoples under the leadership of the French to overthrow 
European reaction; and after 1830 other movements of national and 
liberal revolt, such as the Italian or Polish, also tended to see their own 
nations in some sense as Messiahs destined by their own freedom to 
initiate everyone else’s. 

On the other hand, considered less idealistically, war would also 

* Something like 300,000 Frenchmen emigrated between 1789 and 1795.* 



help to solve numerous domestic problems. It was tempting and obvious 
to ascribe the difficulties of the new regime to the plots of emigres 
and foreign tyrants, and to divert popular discontents against these. 
More specifically, businessmen argued that the uncertain economic 
prospects, the devaluation of the currency and other troubles could 
only be remedied if the threat qf intervention were dispersed. They and 
their ideologist might reflect, with a glatice at the record of Britain, that 
economic supremacy was the child of systematic aggressiveness. (The 
eighteenth century was not one in which the successful businessman 
was at all wedded to peace.) Moreover, as was soon to appear, war 
could be made to produce profit. For all these reasons the majority of 
the new Legislative Assembly, except for a small right wing and a small 
left wing under Robespierre, preached war. For these reasons also, 
when war came, the conquests of the revolution were to combine 
liberation, exploitation and political diversion. 

War was declared in April 1792. Defeat, which the people (plausibly 
enough) ascribed to royal sabotage and treason, brought radicalization. 
In August-September the monarchy was overthrown, the Republic 
one and indivisible established, a new age in human history proclaimed 
with the institution of the Year I of the revolutionary calendar, by the 
armed action of the Sansculotte masses of Paris. The iron and heroic 
age of the French Revolution began among the massacres of the political 
prisoners, the elections to the National Convention—probably the most 
remarkable assembly in the history of parliamentarism—and the call 
for total resistance to the invaders. The king was imprisoned, the 
foreign invasion halted by an undramatic artillery duel at Valmy. 

Revolutionary wars impose their own logic. The dominant party in 
the new Convention were the Girondins, bellicose abroad and moderate 
at home, a body of parliamentary orators of charm and brilliance repre¬ 
senting big business, the provincial bourgeoisie and much intellectual 
distinction. Their policy was utterly impossible. For only states waging 
limited campaigns with established regular forces could hope to keep 
war and domestic affairs in watertight compartments, as the ladies and 
gentlemen in Jane Austen’s novels were just then doing in Britain. 
The Revolution waged neither a limited campaign nor had it estab¬ 
lished forces: for its war oscillated between the maximum victory of 
world revolution and the maximum defeat which meant total counter¬ 
revolution, and its army—what was left of the old French army—was 
ineffective and unreliable. Dumouriez, the Republic’s leading general, 
was shortly to desert to the enemy. Only unprecedented and revolu¬ 
tionary methods could win in such a war, even if victory were to mean 
merely the defeat of foreign intervention. In fact, such methods were 



found. In the course of its crisis the young French Republic discovered 
or invented total war: the total mobilization of a nation’s resources 
through conscription, rationing and a rigidly controlled war economy, 
and virtual abolition, at home or abroad, of the distinction between 
soldiers and civilians. How appalling the implications of this discovery 
are has only become clear in our own historic epoch. Since the revo¬ 
lutionary war of 1792-4 remained an exceptional episode, most nine¬ 
teenth-century observers could make no sense of it, except to observe 
(until in the fatness of later Victorian times even this was forgotten) 
that wars lead to revolutions, and revolutions win otherwise unwin- 
nable wars. Only today can we see how much about the Jacobin Repub¬ 
lic and the ‘Terror’ of 1793-4 makes sense in no other terms than those 
of a modern total war effort. 

The Sansculottes welcomed a revolutionary war government, not 
only because they rightly argued that counter-revolution and foreign 
intervention could only thus be defeated, but also because its methods 
mobilized the people and brought social justice nearer. (They over¬ 
looked the fact that no effective modem war effort is compatible with 
the decentralized voluntarist direct democracy which they cherished.) 
The Gironde, on the other hand, was afraid of the political consequences 
of the combination of mass revolution and war which they unleashed. 
Nor were they equipped for competition with the left. They did not 
want to try or execute the king, but had to compete with their rivals, 
‘the Mountain’ (the Jacobins), for this symbol of revolutionary zeal; 
the Mountain gained prestige, not they. On the other hand, they did 
want to extend the war into a general ideological crusade of liberation 
and a direct challenge to the great economic rival, Britain. They suc¬ 
ceeded in this object. By March 1793 France was at war with most of 
Europe, and had begun foreign annexations (legitimized by the newly- 
invented doctrine of France’s right to her ‘natural frontiers’). But the 
expansion of the war, all the more as it went badly, only strengthened 
the hands of the left, which alone could win it. Retreating and out¬ 
manoeuvred, the Gironde was finally driven to ill-judged attacks 
against the left, which were soon to turn into organized provincial revolt 
against Paris. A rapid coup by the Sansculottes overthrew it on June 2, 
1 793 - The Jacobin Republic had come. 


When the educated layman thinks of the French Revolution it is the 
events of 1789 but especially the Jacobin Republic of the Year II which 
chiefly come to his mind. The prim Robespierre, the huge and whoring 



Danton, the icy revolutionary elegance of Saint-Just, the gross Marat, 
committee of public safety, revolutionary tribunal and guillotine are 
the images which we see most clearly. The very names of the moderate 
revolutionaries who come between Mirabeau and Lafayette in 1789 
and the Jacobin leaders in 1793, have lapsed from all but the memory 
of historians. The Girondins are remembered only as a group, and 
perhaps for the politically negligible but romantic women attached to 
them—Mme Roland or Charlotte Corday. Who, outside the expert 
field, knows even the names of Brissot, Vergniaud, Guadet and the rest? 
Conservatives have created a lasting image of The Terror, dictatorship 
and hysterical bloodlust unchained, though by twentieth century stan¬ 
dards, and indeed by the standards of conservative repressions of social 
revolution such as the massacres after the Paris Commune of 1871, its 
mass killings were relatively modest, 17,000 official executions in 
fourteen months. 7 Revolutionaries, especially in France, have seen it as 
the first people’s republic, the inspiration of all subsequent revolt. For 
all it was an era not to be measured by everyday human criteria. 

That is true. But for the solid middle class Frenchman who stood 
behind The Terror, it was neither pathological nor apocalyptic, but 
first and foremost the only effective method of preserving their country. 
This the Jacobin Republic did, and its achievement was superhuman. 
In June 1793 sixty out of the eighty departments of Frahce were in revolt 
against Paris; the armies of the German princes were invading France 
from the north and east; the British attacked from the south and west: 
the country was helpless and bankrupt. Fourteen months later all 
France was under firm control, the invaders had been expelled, the 
French armies in turn occupied Belgium and were about to enter on 
twenty years of almost unbroken and effortless military triumph. Yet by 
March 1794 an army three times as large as before was run at half the 
cost of March 1793, and the value of the French currency (or rather of 
the paper assignats which had largely replaced it) was kept approxi¬ 
mately stable, in marked contrast to both past and future. No wonder 
Jeanbon St Andre, the Jacobin member of the Committee of Public 
Safety who, though a firm republican, later became one of Napoleon’s 
most efficient prefects, looked at imperial France with contempt as it 
staggered under the defeats of 1812-3. The Republic of the Year II 
had coped with worse crises, and with fewer resources.* 

* ‘Do you know what kind of government (was victorious)? ... A government of the 
Convention. A government of passionate Jacobins in red bonnets, wearing rough woollen 
cloth, wooden shoes, who lived on simple bread and bad beer and went to sleep on mattresses 
laid on the floor of their meeting-halls, when they were too tired to wake and deliberate 
further. That is the kind of men who saved France. I was one of them, gentlemen. And here, 
as in the apartments of the Emperor which I am about to enter, I glory in the fact/ Quoted 
J. Savant, Les Prefets de Napolton ( 1958 ), 111-2. 



For such men, as indeed for the majority of the National Convention 
which at bottom retained control throughout this heroic period, the 
choice was simple: either The Terror with all its defects from the middle 
class point of view, or the destruction of the Revolution, the disinte¬ 
gration of the national state, and probably—was there not the example 
of Poland?—the disappearance of the country. Very likely, but for the 
desperate crisis of France, many among them would have preferred a 
less iron regime and certainly a less firmly controlled economy: the fall 
of Robespierre led to an epidemic of economic decontrol and corrupt 
racketeering which, incidentally, culminated in galloping inflation and 
the national bankruptcy of 1797. But even from the narrowest point of 
view, the prospects of the French middle class depended on those of a 
unified strong centralized national state. And anyway, could the Revo¬ 
lution which had virtually created the term ‘nation’ and ‘patriotism’ 
in their modern senses, abandon the ‘grande nation’? 

The first task of the Jacobin regime was to mobilize mass support 
against the dissidence of the Gironde and the provincial notables, and 
to retain the already mobilized mass support of the Paris Sansculottes, 
some of whose demands for a revolutionary war-effort—general con¬ 
scription (the ‘levee en masse’), terror against the ‘traitors’ and general 
price-control (the ‘maximum’)—in any case coincided with Jacobin 
common sense, though their other demands were to prove troublesome. 
A somewhat radicalized new constitution, hitherto delayed by the 
Gironde, was proclaimed. According to this noble but academic docu¬ 
ment the people were offered universal suffrage, the right of insur¬ 
rection, work or maintenance, and—most significant of all—the official 
statement that the happiness of all was the aim of government and the 
people’s rights were to be not merely available but operative. It was the 
first genuinely democratic constitution proclaimed by a modern state. 
More concretely, the Jacobins abolished all remaining feudal rights 
without indemnity, improved the small buyer’s chance to purchase the 
forfeited land of emigres, and—some months later—abolished slavery 
in the French colonies, in order to encourage the Negroes of San 
Domingo to fight for the Republic against the English. These measures 
had the most far-reaching results. In America they helped to create 
the first independent revolutionary leader of stature in Toussaint- 
Louverture.* In France they established that impregnable citadel of 
small and middle peasant proprietors, small craftsmen and shopkeepers, 
economically retrogressive but passionately devoted to Revolution and 

* The failure of Napoleonic France to recapture Haiti was one of the main reasons for 
liquidating the entire remaining American Empire, which was sold by die Louisiana 
Purchase (1803) to the USA. Thus a further consequence of spreading Jacobinism to America 
was to make the USA a continent-wide power. 



Republic, which has dominated the country’s life ever since. The 
capitalist transformation of agriculture and small enterprise, the essen¬ 
tial condition for rapid economic development, was slowed to a crawl; 
and with it the speed of urbanization, the expansion of the home 
market, the multiplication of the working-class and, incidentally, the 
ulterior advance of proletarian revolution. Both big business and the 
labour movement were long doomed to remain minority phenomena 
in France, islands surrounded by a sea of corner grocers, peasant small¬ 
holders and caft proprietors (cf. below chapter IX). 

The centre of the new government, representing as it did an alliance 
of Jacobin and Sansculotte, therefore shifted perceptibly to the left. 
This was reflected in the reconstructed Committee of Public Safety, 
which rapidly became the effective war-cabinet of France. It lost 
Danton, a powerful, dissolute, probably corrupt, but immensely tal¬ 
ented revolutionary more moderate than he looked (he had been a 
minister in the last royal administration) and gained Maximilien 
Robespierre, who became its most influential member. Few historians 
have been dispassionate about this dandyish, thin-blooded, fanatical 
lawyer with his somewhat excessive sense of private monopoly in 
virtue, because he still incarnates the terrible and glorious year II 
about which no man is neutral. He was not an agreeable individual; 
even those who think he was right nowadays tend to prefer the shining 
mathematical rigour of that architect of Spartan paradises, the young 
Saint-Just. He was not a great man and often a narrow one. But he is 
the only individual thrown up by the Revolution (other than Napoleon) 
about whom a cult has grown up. This is because for him, as for 
history, the Jacobin Republic was not a war-winning device but an 
ideal: the terrible and glorious reign of justice and virtue when all good 
citizens were equal in the sight of the nation and the people smote the 
traitors. Jcan-Jacques Rousseau (cf. below pp. 247-8) and the crystalline 
conviction of rightness gave him his strength. He had no formal dicta¬ 
torial powers or even office, being merely one member of the Committee 
of Public Safety, which was in turn merely one sub-committee—the 
most powerful, though never all-powerful—of the Convention. His 
power was that of the people—the Paris masses; his terror theirs. When 
they abandoned him he fell. 

The tragedy of Robespierre and the Jacobin Republic was that they 
were themselves obliged to alienate this support. The regime was an 
alliance between middle class and labouring masses; but for the middle 
class Jacobins, Sansculotte concessions were tolerable only because, 
and as far as, they attached the masses to the regime without terrifying 
property-owners; and within the alliance the middle class Jacobins were 



decisive. Moreover, the very needs of the war obliged any government 
to centralize and discipline, at the expense of the free, local, direct 
democracy of club and section, the casual voluntarist militia, the free 
argumentative elections on which the Sansculottes thrived. The process 
which, during the Spanish Civil War of 1936-9, strengthened Com¬ 
munists at the expense of Anarchists, strengthened Jacobins of Saint- 
Just’s stamp at the expense of Sansculottes of Hubert’s. By 1794 govern¬ 
ment and politics were monolithic and run in harness by direct agents 
of Committee or Convention—through delegates en mission —and a 
large body of Jacobin officers and officials in conjunction with local 
party organizations. Lastly, the economic needs of the war alienated 
popular support. In the towns price-control and rationing benefited 
the masses; but the corresponding wage-freeze hurt them. In the 
countryside the systematic requisitioning of food (which the urban 
Sansculottes had been the first to advocate) alienated the peasantry. 

The masses therefore retired into discontent or into a puzzled and 
resentful passivity, especially after the trial and execution of the Heber- 
tists, the most vocal spokesmen of the Sansculotterie. Meanwhile more 
moderate supporters were alarmed by the attack on the right wing 
opposition, now headed by Danton. This faction had provided a refuge 
for numerous racketeers, speculators, black market operators and other 
corrupt though capital-accumulating elements, all the more readily as 
Danton himself embodied the a-moral, Falstaffian, free loving and free 
spending which always emerges initially in social revolutions until 
overpowered by the hard puritanism that invariably comes to dominate 
them. The Dantons of history are always defeated by the Robespierres 
(or by those who pretend to behave like Robespierres) because hard 
narrow dedication can succeed where bohemianism cannot. However, 
if Robespierre won moderate support for eliminating corruption, 
which was after all in the interests of the war-effort, the further restric¬ 
tions on freedom and money-making were more disconcerting to the 
businessman. Finally, no large body of opinion liked the somewhat 
fanciful ideological excursions of the period—the systematic dechris- 
tianization campaigns (due to Sansculotte zeal) and Robespierre’s new 
civic religion of the Supreme Being, complete with ceremonies, which 
attempted to counteract the atheists and carry out the precepts of the 
divine Jean-Jacques. And the steady hiss of the guillotine reminded all 
politicians that no one was really safe. 

By April 1794, both right and left had gone to the guillotine and the 
Robespierrists were therefore politically isolated. Only the war-crisis 
maintained them in power. When, late in June 1794, the new armies 
of the Republic proved their firmness by decisively defeating the 

7 * 

the age of REVOLUTION 

Austrians at Fleurus and occupying Belgium, the end was at hand. On 
the Ninth Thermidor by the revolutionary calender (July 27, 1794) the 
Convention overthrew Robespierre. The next day he, Saint-Just and 
Couthon were executed, and so a few days later were eighty-seven 
members of the revolutionary Paris Commune. 


Thermidor is the end of the heroic and remembered phase of the 
Revolution - , the phase of ragged Sansculottes and correct red-bonneted 
citizens who saw themselves as Brutus and Cato, of the grandiloquent 
classical and generous, but also of the mortal phrases: ‘Lyon n’est plus’, 
‘Ten thousand soldiers lack shoes. You will take the shoes of all the 
aristocrats in Strasbourg and deliver them ready for transport to head¬ 
quarters by tomorrow ten a.m.’ 8 It was not a comfortable phase to 
live through, for most men were hungry and many afraid; but it was 
a phenomenon as awful and irreversible as the first nuclear explosion, 
and all history has been permanently changed by it. And the energy it 
generated was sufficient to sweep away the armies of the old regimes 
ofEurope like straw. 

The problem which faced the French middle class for the remainder 
of what is technically described as the revolutionary period (1794-9) 
was how to achieve political stability and economic advance on the 
basis of the original liberal programme of 1789-91. It has never solved 
this problem adequately from that day to this, though from 1870 on it 
was to discover a workable formula for most times in the parliamentary 
republic. The rapid alternations of regime—Directory (1795-9), 
Consulate (1799-1804), Empire (1804-14), restored Bourbon Mon¬ 
archy (1815-30), Constitutional Monarchy (1830-48), Republic 
(1848-51), and Empire (1852-70)—were all attempts to maintain a 
bourgeois society while avoiding the double danger of the Jacobin 
democratic republic and the old regime. 

The great weakness of the Thermidorians was that they enjoyed no 
political support but at most toleration, squeezed as they were between 
a revived aristocratic reaction and the Jacobin-Sansculotte Paris poor 
who soon regretted the fall of Robespierre. In 1795 they devised an 
elaborate constitution of checks and balances to safeguard themselves 
against both, and periodic shifts to right and left maintained them pre¬ 
cariously in balance; but increasingly they had to rely on the army to 
disperse the opposition. It was a situation curiously similar to the 
Fourth Republic, and its conclusion was similar: the rule of a general. 
But the Directory depended on the army for more than the suppression 



of periodic coups and plots (various ones in 1795, Babeuf’s conspiracy 
in 1796, Fructidor in 1797, Flor&il in 1798, Prairial in 1799).* Inac¬ 
tivity was the only safe guarantee of power for a weak and unpopular 
regime, but initiative and expansion was what the middle class needed. 
The army solved this apparently insoluble problem. It conquered; it 
paid for itself; more than this, its loot and conquests paid for the 
government. Was it surprising that eventually the most intelligent and 
able of the army leaders, Napoleon Bonaparte, should have decided 
that the army could dispense altogether with the feeble civilian regime? 

This revolutionary army was the most formidable child of the 
Jacobin Republic. From a ‘levee en masse’ of revolutionary citizens it 
soon turned into a force of professional fighters, for there was no call-up 
between 1793 and 1798, and those who had no taste or talent for 
soldiering deserted en masse. It therefore retained the characteristics of 
the Revolution and acquired those of the vested interest; the typical 
Bonapartist mixture. The Revolution gave it its unprecedented military 
superiority, which Napoleon’s superb generalship was to exploit. It 
always remained something of an improvised levy, in which barely 
trained recruits picked up training and morale from old sweats, formal 
barrack-discipline was negligible, soldiers were treated as men and the 
absolute rule of promotion by merit (which meant distinction in battle) 
produced a simple hierarchy of courage. This and the sense of arrogant 
revolutionary mission made the French army independent of the 
resources on which more orthodox forces depended. It never acquired 
an effective supply system, for it lived off the country. It was never 
backed by an armaments industry faintly adequate to its nominal 
needs; but it won its battles so quickly that it needed few arms: in 1806 
the great machine of the Prussian army crumbled before an army in 
which an entire corps fired a mere 1,400 cannon shot. Generals could 
rely on unlimited offensive courage and a fair amount of local initiative. 
Admittedly it also had the weakness of its origins. Apart from Napoleon 
and a very few others, its generalship and staff-work was poor, for the 
revolutionary general or Napoleonic marshal was most likely a tough 
sergeant-major or company-officer type promoted for bravery and 
leadership rather than brains: the heroic but very stupid Marshal Ney 
was only too typical. Napoleon won battles; his marshals alone tended 
to lose them. Its sketchy supply system sufficed in the rich and lootable 
countries where it had been developed: Belgium, North Italy, Germany. 
In the waste spaces of Poland and Russia, as we shall see, it collapsed. 
Its total absence of sanitary services multiplied casualties: between 
1800 and 1815 Napoleon lost 40 per cent of his forces (though about 

* The names are those of months in the revolutionary calendar. 



one-third of this through desertion); but between 90 and 98 per cent 
of these losses were men who died not in battle but of wounds, sickness, 
exhaustion and cold. In brief, it was an army which conquered all 
Europe in short sharp bursts not only because it could, but because 
it had to. 

On the other hand the army was a career like any other of the many 
the bourgeois revolution had opened to talent; and those who suc¬ 
ceeded in it had a vested interest in internal stability like any other 
bourgeois. That is what made the army, in spite of its built-in Jacobin¬ 
ism, a pillar of the post-Thermidorian government, and its leader 
Bonaparte a suitable person to conclude the bourgeois revolution 
and begin the bourgeois regime. Napoleon Bonaparte himself, though 
of gentlemanly birth by the standards of his barbarous island-home of 
Corsica, was himself a typical careerist of this kind. Born in 1769 he 
made his way slowly in the artillery, one of the few branches of the 
royal army in which technical competence was indispensable, ambi¬ 
tious, discontented and revolutionary. Under the Revolution, and 
especially under the Jacobin dictatorship which he supported strongly, 
he was recognized by a local commissar on a crucial front—a fellow 
Corsican incidentally, which can hardly have harmed his prospects— 
as a soldier of splendid gifts and promise. The Year II made him a 
general. He survived the fall of Robespierre, and a gift for cultivating 
useful connections in Paris helped him forward after this difficult 
moment. He seized his opportunities in the Italian campaign of 1796 
which made him the unchallenged first soldier of the Republic, who 
acted virtually in independence of the civilian authorities. Power was 
half-thrust upon him, half grasped by him when the foreign invasions 
of 1799 revealed the Directory’s feebleness and his own indispensability. 
He became First Consul; then Consul for life; then Emperor. And with 
his arrival, as by a miracle, the insoluble problems of the Directory 
became soluble. Within a few years France had a Civil Code, a con¬ 
cordat with the Church and even, most striking symbol of bourgeois 
stability, a National Bank. And the world had its first secular myth. 

Older readers or those in old-fashioned countries will know the 
Napoleonic myth as it existed throughout the century when no middle- 
class cabinet was complete without his bust, and pamphleteering wits 
could argue, even for a joke, that he was not a man but a sun-god. The 
extraordinary power of this myth can be adequately explained neither 
by Napoleonic victories nor by Napoleonic propaganda, nor even by 
Napoleon’s own undoubted genius. As a man he was unquestionably 
very brilliant, versatile, intelligent and imaginative, though power 
made him rather nasty. As a general he had no equal; as a ruler he was 



a superbly efficient planner, chief and executive and sufficient of an 
all-round intellectual to understand and supervise what his subordinates 
were doing. As an individual he appears to have radiated a sense of 
greatness; but most of those who testify to this—like Goethe—saw him 
at the peak of his fame, when the myth already enveloped him. He was, 
without any question, a very great man, and—perhaps with the excep¬ 
tion of Lenin—his picture is the one which most reasonably educated 
men would, even today, recognize most readily in the portrait gallery 
of history, if only by the triple trade-mark of the small size, the hair 
brushed forward over the forehead and the hand pushed into the half¬ 
open waistcoat. It is perhaps pointless to measure him against twen¬ 
tieth-century candidates for greatness. 

For the Napoleonic myth is based less on Napoleon’s merits than on 
the facts, then unique, of his career. The great known world-shakers of 
the past had begun as kings like Alexander or patricians like Julius 
Caesar; but Napoleon was the ‘little corporal’ who rose to rule a conti¬ 
nent by sheer personal talent. (This was not strictly true, but his rise 
was sufficiently meteoric and high to make the description reasonable.) 
Every young intellectual who devoured books, as the young Bonaparte 
had done, wrote bad poems and novels, and adored Rousseau could 
henceforth see the sky as his limit, laurels surrounding his monogram. 
Every businessman henceforth had a name for his ambition: to be—the 
cliches themselves say so—a ‘Napoleon of finance’ or industry. All 
common men were thrilled by the sight, then unique, of a common 
man who became greater than those born to wear crowns. Napoleon 
gave ambition a personal name at the moment when the double revo¬ 
lution had opened the world to men of ambition. Yet he was more. He 
was the civilized man of the eighteenth century, rationalist, inquisitive, 
enlightened, but with sufficient of the disciple of Rousseau about him 
to be also the romantic man of the nineteenth. He was the man of the 
Revolution, and the man who brought stability. In a word, he was 
the figure every man who broke with tradition could identify himself 
with in his dreams. 

For the French he was also something much simpler: the most 
successful ruler in their long history. He triumphed gloriously abroad; 
but at home he also established or re-established the apparatus of 
French institutions as they exist to this day. Admittedly most—perhaps 
all—his ideas were anticipated by Revolution and Directory; his 
personal contribution was to make them rather more conservative, 
hierarchical and authoritarian. But his predecessors anticipated: he 
carried out. The great lucid monuments of French law, the Codes 
which became models for the entire non-Anglo-Saxon bourgeois world, 



were Napoleonic. The hierarchy of officials, from the prefects down, of 
courts, of university and schools, was his. The great ‘careers’ of French 
public life, army, civil service, education, law still have their Napole¬ 
onic shapes. He brought stability and prosperity to all except the 
quarter-of-a-million Frenchmen who did not return from his wars; and 
even to their relatives he brought glory. No doubt the British saw them¬ 
selves fighting for liberty against tyranny; but in 1815 most Englishmen 
were probably poorer and worse off than they had been in 1800, while 
most Frenchmen were almost certainly better off; nor had any except 
the still negligible wage-labourers lost the substantial economic benefits 
of the Revolution. There is little mystery about the persistence of Bona¬ 
partism as an ideology of non-political Frenchmen, especially the 
richer peasantry, after his fall. It took a second and smaller Napoleon 
to dissipate it between 1851 and 1870. 

He had destroyed only one thing : the Jacobin Revolution, the dream 
of equality, liberty and fraternity, and of the people rising in its majesty 
to shake off oppression. It was a more powerful myth than his, for after 
his fall it was this, and not his memory, which inspired the revolutions 
of the nineteenth century, even in his own country. 



In a time of innovation, all that is not new is pernicious. The military art of the 
monarchy no longer suits us, for we are different men and have different enemies. The 
power and conquests of peoples, the splendour of their politics and warfare, have 
always depended on a single principle, a single powerful institution. . . . Our nation 
has already a national character of its own. Its military system must be different from its 
enemies \ Very well then: if the French nation is terrible because of our ardour and 
skill, and if our enemies are clumsy, cold and slow, then our military system must be 

Saint-Just, Rapport prlsenti a la Convention Rationale au nom du Comiti de 

Salut Public, ig du premier mois de Can II (October 10, lygf) 

It is not true that war is divinely ordained; it is not true that the earth thirsts for 
blood. God himself curses war and so do the men who wage it, and who hold it in 
secret horror. 

Alfred de Vigny, Servitude et grandeur militaires. 


From 1792 until 1815 there was almost uninterrupted war in Europe, 
combined or coincident with occasional war outside: in the West Indies, 
the Levant and India in the 1790s and early 1800s, in occasional naval 
operations abroad thereafter, in the USA in 1812-14. The consequences 
of victory or defeat in these wars were considerable, for they transformed 
the map of the world. We must therefore consider them first. But we 
shall also have to consider a less tangible problem. What were the con¬ 
sequences of the actual process of warfare, the military mobilization and 
operations, the political and economic measures consequent upon them? 

Two very different kinds of belligerents confronted one another 
during those twenty-odd years: powers and systems. France as a state, 
with its interests and aspirations confronted (or was in alliance with) 
other states of the same kind, but on the other hand France as the 
Revolution appealed to the peoples of the world to overthrow tyranny 
and embrace liberty, and the forces of conservatism and reaction 
opposed her. No doubt after the first apocalyptic years of revolutionary 
war the difference between these two strands of conflict diminished. By 
the end of Napoleon’s reign the element of imperial conquest and 
exploitation prevailed over the element of liberation, whenever French 



troops defeated, occupied or annexed some country, and international 
warfare was therefore much less mixed with international (and in each 
country domestic) civil war. Conversely, the anti-revolutionary powers 
were resigned to the irreversibility of much of the revolution’s achieve¬ 
ment in France, and consequently ready to negotiate (within certain 
reservations) peace-terms as between normally functioning powers 
rather than as between light and darkness. They were even, within a 
few weeks of Napoleon’s first defeat, prepared to readmit France as an 
equal player into the traditional game of alliance, counter-alliance, 
bluff, threat and war in which diplomacy regulated the relationships 
between the major states. Nevertheless, the dual nature of the wars as 
a conflict, both between states and between social systems, remained. 

Socially speaking, the belligerents were very unevenly divided. 
Apart from France itself, there was only one state of importance whose 
revolutionary origins and sympathy with the Declarations of the Rights 
of Man might give it an ideological inclination to the French side: the 
United States of America. In fact, the USA did lean to the French side, 
and on at least one occasion (1812-14) fought a war, if not in alliance 
with the French, then at least against a common enemy, the British. 
However, the USA remained neutral for the most part and its friction 
with the British requires no ideological explanation. For the rest the 
ideological allies of France were parties and currents of opinion within 
other states rather than state powers in their own right. 

In a very broad sense virtually every person of education, talent and 
enlightenment sympathized with the Revolution, at all events until the 
Jacobin dictatorship, and often for very much longer. (It was not until 
Napoleon had made himself emperor that Beethoven revoked the 
dedication of the Eroica Symphony to him.) The list of European 
talent and genius which supported the Revolution initially can only be 
compared with the similar and almost universal sympathy for the 
Spanish Republic in the 1930s. In Britain it included the poets— 
Wordsworth, Blake, Coleridge, Robert Burns, Southey—scientists, the 
chemist. Joseph Priestley and several members of the distinguished 
Birmingham Lunar Society,* technologists and industrialists like Wil¬ 
kinson the ironmaster and Thomas Telford the engineer, and Whig or 
Dissenting intellectuals in general. In Germany it included the philoso¬ 
phers Kant, Herder, Fichte, Schelling and Hegel, the poets Schiller, 
Hoelderlin, Wieland and the aged Klopstock and the musician Beet¬ 
hoven, in Switzerland the educationalist Pestalozzi, the psychologist 
Lavater and the painter Fuessli (Fuseli), in Italy virtually all persons 
of anticlerical opinions. However, though the Revolution was charmed 

* James Watt’s son actually went to France, to his father’s alarm. 



by such intellectual support, and honoured eminent foreign sym¬ 
pathizers and those whom it believed to stand for its principles by 
granting diem honorary French citizenship,* neither a Beethoven nor 
a Robert Burns were of much political or military importance in 

Serious political philo-Jacobinism or pro-French sentiment existed in 
the main in certain areas adjoining France, where social conditions 
were comparable or cultural contacts permanent (the Low Countries, 
the Rhineland, Switzerland and Savoy), in Italy; and for somewhat 
different reasons in Ireland and Poland. In Britain ‘Jacobinism’ would 
undoubtedly have been a phenomenon of greater political importance, 
even after The Terror, if it had not clashed with the traditional anti- 
French bias of popular English nationalism, compounded equally of 
John Bull’s beef-fed contempt for the starveling continentals (all French 
in the popular cartoons of the period are as thin as matchsticks) and of 
hostility to what was, after all, England’s ‘hereditary enemy 1 , though 
also Scotland’s hereditary ally. ^ British Jacobinism was unique in being 
primarily an artisan or working-class phenomenon, at least after the 
first general enthusiasm had passed. The Corresponding Societies can 
claim to be the first independent political organizations of the labouring 
class. But it found a voice of unique force in Tom Paine’s ‘Rights of 
Man’ (which may have sold a million copies), and some political 
backing from Whig interests, themselves immune to persecution by 
reason of their wealth and social position, who were prepared to defend 
the traditions of British civil liberty and the desirability of a negotiated 
peace with France. Nevertheless, the real weakness ofBritish Jacobinism 
is indicated by the fact that the very fleet at Spithead, which mutinied 
at a crucial stage of the war (1797), clamoured to be allowed to sail 
against the French once their economic demands had been met. 

In the Iberian peninsula, in the Habsburg dominions, Central and 
Eastern Germany, Scandinavia, the Balkans and Russia, philo- 
Jacobinism was a negligible force. It attracted some ardent young men, 
some illuminist intellectuals and a few others who, like Ignatius 
Martinovics in Hungary or Rhigas in Greece, occupy the honoured 
places of precursors in the history of their countries’ struggle for 
national or social liberation. But the absence of any mass support for 
their views among the middle and upper classes, let alone their isolation 

* To wit Priestley, Bentham, Wilberforce, Clarkson (the anti-slavery agitator), James 
Mackintosh, David Williams from *Britain, Klopstock, Schiller, Campe and Anarcharsis 
Cloots from Germany, Pestalozzi from Switzerland, Kosziusko from Poland, Gorani from 
Italy, Cornelius de Pauw from the Netherlands, Washington, Hamilton, Madison, Tom 
Paine and Joel Barlow from the USA. Not all of these were sympathizers with the Revolution. 

t This may not be unconnected with the fact that Scottish Jacobinism was a very much 
more powerful popular force. 



from the bigoted illiterate peasantry, made Jacobinism easy to suppress 
even when, as in Austria, it ventured on a conspiracy. A. generation 
would have to pass before the strong and militant Spanish liberal 
tradition was to emerge from the few tiny student conspiracies or 
Jacobin emissaries of 1792-5. 

The truth was that for the most part Jacobinism abroad made its 
direct ideological appeal to the educated and middle classes and that 
its political force therefore depended on their effectiveness or willing¬ 
ness to use it. Thus in Poland the French Revolution made a profound 
impression. France had long been the chief foreign power in whom 
Poles hoped to find backing against the joint greed of the Prussians, 
Russians and Austrians, who had already annexed vast areas of the 
country and were soon to divide it among themselves entirely. France 
also provided a model of the kind of profound internal reform which, 
as all thinking Poles agreed, could alone enable their country to resist 
its butchers. Hence it is hardly surprising that the Reform constitution 
of 1791 was consciously and profoundly influenced by the French Revo¬ 
lution; it was the first of the modem constitutions to show this in¬ 
fluence.* But in Poland the reforming nobility and gentry had a free 
hand. In Hungary, where the endemic conflict between Vienna and 
the local autonomists provided an analogous incentive for country 
gentlemen to interest themselves in theories of resistance (the county of 
Gdmftr demanded the abolition of censorship as being contrary to 
Rousseau’s Social Contract), they had not. Consequently ‘Jacobinism’ 
was both much weaker and much less effective. Again in Ireland, 
national and agrarian discontent gave ‘Jacobinism’ a political force far 
in excess of the actual support for the free-thinking, masonic ideology 
of the leaders of the ‘United Irishmen’. Church services were held in 
that most catholic country for the victory of the godless French, and 
Irishmen were prepared to welcome the invasion of their country by 
French forces, not. because they sympathized with Robespierre but 
because they hated the English and looked for allies against them. In 
Spain, on the other hand, where both Catholicism and poverty were 
equally prominent, Jacobinism failed to gain a foothold for the opposite 
reason: no foreigners oppressed the Spaniards, and the only ones likely 
to do so were the French. 

Neither Poland nor Ireland were typical examples of philo-Jacobin- 
ism, for the actual programme of the Revolution made little appeal 
there. It did in countries of similar social and political problems to 

♦ As Poland was essentially a Republic of the nobility and gentry, the constitution was 
‘jacobin’ only in the most superficial sense: the rule of the nobles was reinforced rather than 



those of France. These fall into two groups: states in which native 
‘Jacobinism’ stood a reasonable chance of bidding for political power, 
and those in which only French conquest could push them forward. 
The Low Countries, parts of Switzerland, and possibly one or two 
Italian states belong to the first group, most of West Germany and 
Italy to the second. Belgium (the Austrian Netherlands) was already in 
revolt in 1789: it is often forgotten that Camille Desmoulins called his 
journal ‘Les Revolutions de France et de Brabant’. The pro-French element 
of the revolutionaries (the democratic Vonckists) was no doubt weaker 
than the conservative Statists, but strong enough to produce genuine 
revolutionary support for the French conquest of their country, which 
they favoured. In the United Provinces the ‘patriots’, seeking an alli¬ 
ance with France, were powerful enough to consider a revolution, 
though doubtful whether it could succeed without external aid. They 
represented the lesser middle class, and others rallied against the 
dominant oligarchies of big merchant patricians. In Switzerland the 
left wing element in certain protestant cantons had always been strong, 
and the attraction of France had always been powerful. Here too French 
conquest supplemented rather than created the local revolutionary 

In West Germany and Italy this was not so. French invasion was 
welcomed by the German Jacobins, notably in Mainz and the south¬ 
west, but nobody would claim that they were within measurable 
distance of even causing their governments much trouble on their own.* 
In Italy the prevalence ofilluminism and Masonry made the Revolution 
immensely popular among the educated, but local Jacobinism was 
probably powerful only in the kingdom of Naples, where it captured 
virtually all the enlightened (i.e. anticlerical) middle class and a part 
of the gentry, and was well organized in the secret lodges and societies 
which flourish so well in the South Italian atmosphere. But even there 
it suffered from its total failure to make contact with the social¬ 
revolutionary masses. A Neapolitan republic was easily proclaimed as 
news of the French advance came, but equally easily overthrown by a 
social revolution of the right, under the banner of Pope and King; for 
the peasants and the Neapolitan lazzaroni, with some justification, 
defined a Jacobin as ‘a man with a coach’. 

Broadly speaking, therefore, the military value of foreign philo- 
Jacobinism was chiefly that of an auxiliary to French conquest, and a 
source of politically reliable administrators of conquered territories. 
And indeed, the tendency was for the areas with local Jacobin strength 
to be turned into satellite republics and thereafter, where convenient, 

* The French even failed \<x establish a satellite Rhineland Republic. 



to be annexed to France. Belgium was annexed in 1795; the Nether¬ 
lands became the Batavian Republic in the same year and eventually 
a family kingdom of the Bonapartes. The left bank of the Rhine was 
annexed, and under Napoleon satellite states (like the Grand Duchy 
of Berg—the present Ruhr area—and the kingdom of Westphalia) and 
direct annexation extended further across North-west Germany. Swit¬ 
zerland became the Helvetic Republic in 1798 and was eventually 
annexed. In Italy a string of republics were set up—the Cisalpine 
(1797), the Ligurian (1797), the Roman (1798), the Partenopean (1798) 
which eventually became partly French territory, but predominantly 
satellite states (the kingdom of Italy, the kingdom of Naples). 

Foreign Jacobinism had some military importance, and foreign 
Jacobins within France played a significant part in the formation of 
Republican strategy, as notably the Saliceti group, which is incidentally 
more than a little responsible for the rise of the Italian Napoleon 
Bonaparte within the French army, and his subsequent fortunes in 
Italy. But few would claim that it or they were decisive. One foreign 
pro-French movement alone might have been decisive, had it been 
effectively exploited: the Irish. A combination of Irish revolution and 
French invasion, particularly in 1797-8 when Britain was temporarily 
the only belligerent left in the field against France, might well have 
forced Britain to make peace. But the technical problems of invasion 
across so wide a stretch of sea were difficult, the French efforts to do so 
hesitant and ill-conceived, and the Irish rising of 1 798, though enjoying 
massive popular support, poorly organized and easily suppressed. To 
speculate about the theoretical possibilities of Franco-Irish operations 
is therefore idle. 

But if the French enjoyed the support of revolutionary forces abroad, 
so did the anti-French. For the spontaneous movements of popular 
resistance against French conquest cannot be denied their social¬ 
revolutionary component, even when the peasants who waged them 
expressed it in terms of militant church-and-king conservatism. It is 
significant that the military tactic which in our century has become 
most completely identified with revolutionary warfare, the guerilla or 
partisan, was between 1792 and 1815 the almost exclusive preserve of 
the anti-French side. In France itself the Vendde and the chouans ofBrit- 
tany carried on royalist guerilla war from 1793, with interruptions, until 
1802. Abroad, the bandits of Southern Italy in 1798-9 probably 
pioneered anti-French popular guerilla action. The Tyrolese under the 
publican Andreas Hofer in 1809, but above all the Spaniards from 
1808, and to some extent the Russians in 1812-13, practised it with 
considerable success. Paradoxically, the military importance of this 



revolutionary tactic for the anti-French was almost certainly greater 
than the military importance of foreign Jacobinism was for the French. 
No area beyond the borders of France itself maintained a pro-Jacobin 
government for a moment after the defeat or withdrawal of French 
troops; but Tyrol, Spain, and to some extent Southern Italy, presented 
a more serious military problem to the French after the defeat of their 
formal armies and rulers than before. The reason is obvious: these were 
peasant movements. Where anti-French nationalism was not based on 
the local peasantry, its military importance was negligible. Retro¬ 
spective patriotism has created a German ‘war of liberation’ in 1813-14, 
but it can safely be said that, insofar as this is supposed to have been 
based on popular resistance to the French, it is a pious fiction. 1 In 
Spain the people held the French in check when the armies had failed; 
in Germany orthodox armies defeated them in a wholly orthodox 

Socially speaking, then, it is not too much of a distortion to speak of 
the war as one of France and its border territories against the rest. In 
terms of old-fashioned power relations, the line-up was more complex. 
The fundamental conflict here was that between France and Britain, 
which had dominated European international relations for the best 
part of a century. From the British point of view this was almost wholly 
economic. They wished to eliminate their chief competitor on the way 
to achieving total predominance of their trade in the European 
markets, the total control of the colonial and overseas markets, which 
in turn implied the control of the high seas. In fact, they achieved 
something not much less than this as the result of the wars. In Europe 
this objective implied no territorial ambitions, except for the control of 
certain points of maritime importance, or the assurance that these 
would not fall into the hands of states strong enough to be dangerous. 
For the rest of Britain was content with any continental settlement in 
which any potential rival was held in check by other states. Abroad it 
implied the wholesale destruction of other people’s colonial empires 
and considerable annexations to the British. 

This policy was in itself sufficient to provide the French with some 
potential allies, for all maritime, trading and colonial states regarded 
it with misgivings or hostility. In fact their normal posture was one of 
neutrality, for the benefits of trading freely in wartime are considerable; 
but the British tendency to treat neutral shipping (quite realistically) 
as a force helping the French rather than themselves, drove them into 
conflict from time to time, until the French blockade policy after 1806 
pushed them in the opposite direction. Most maritime powers were too 
weak, or, being in Europe, too cut off, to cause the British much 



trouble; but the Anglo-American war of 1812-14 was the outcome of 
such a conflict. 

The French hostility to Britain was somewhat more complex, but the 
element in it which, like the British, demanded a total victory was 
greatly strengthened by the Revolution, which brought to power a 
French bourgeoisie whose appetites were, in their way, as limitless as 
those of the British. At the very least victory over the British required 
the destruction of British commerce, on which Britain was correctly 
believed to be dependent; and a safeguard against future British 
recovery, its permanent destruction. (The parallel between the Franco- 
British and the Rome-Carthage conflict was much in the minds of the 
French, whose political imagery was largely classical.) In a more ambi¬ 
tious mood, the French bourgeoisie could hope to offset the evident 
economic superiority of the British only by its own political and military 
resources: e.g. by creating for itself a vast captive market from which its 
rivals were excluded. Both these considerations lent the Anglo-French 
conflict a persistence and stubbornness unlike any other. Neither side 
was really—a rare thing in those days, though a common one today— 
prepared to settle for less than total victory. The one brief spell of 
peace between the two (1802-3) was brought to an end by the reluc¬ 
tance of both to maintain it. This was all the more remarkable, since 
the purely military situation imposed a stalemate: it was clear from 
the later 1790s that the British could not effectively get at the continent 
and the French could not effectively break out of it. 

The other anti-French powers were engaged in a less murderous kind 
of struggle. They all hoped to overthrow the French Revolution, 
though not at the expense of their own political ambitions, but after 
1792-5 this was clearly no longer practicable. Austria, whose family 
links with the Bourbons were reinforced by the direct French threat to 
her possessions and areas of influence in Italy, and her’leading position 
in Germany, was the most consistently anti-French, and took part in 
every major coalition against France. Russia was intermittently anti- 
French, entering the war only in 1795-1800, 1805-7 and 1812. Prussia 
was torn between a sympathy for the counter-revolutionary side, a 
mistrust of Austria, and her own ambitions in Poland and Germany, 
which benefited from the French initiative. She therefore entered the 
war occasionally and in a semi-independent fashion: in 1792-5, 1806-7 
(when she was pulverized) and 1813. The policy of the remainder of 
the states which from time to time entered anti-French coalitions, 
shows comparable fluctuations. They were against the Revolution but, 
politics being politics, they had other fish to fry also, and nothing in 
their state interests imposed a permanent unwavering hostility to 



France, especially to a victorious France which determined the periodic 
redistributions of European territory. 

These permanent diplomatic ambitions and interests of the European 
states also supplied the French with a number of potential allies: for in 
every permanent system of states in rivalry and tension with one 
another, the enmity of A implies the sympathy of anti-A. The most 
reliable of these were those lesser German princes whose interest it had 
long been—normally in alliance with France—to weaken the power of 
the Emperor (i.e. Austria) over the principalities, or who suffered from 
the growth of Prussian power. The South-western German states— 
Baden, Wurtemberg, Bavaria, who became the nucleus of the Napo¬ 
leonic Confederation of the Rhine (1806)—and Prussia’s old rival and 
victim, Saxony, were the most important of these. Saxony, indeed, 
was the last and most loyal ally of Napoleon, a fact also partly explic¬ 
able by her economic interests, for as a highly developed manufac¬ 
turing centre she benefited from the Napoleonic ‘continental system’. 

Still, even allowing for the divisions on the anti-French side and the 
potential of allies on which the French might draw, on paper the anti- 
French coalitions were invariably much stronger than the French, at 
any rate initially. Yet the military history of the wars is one of almost 
unbroken and breath-taking French victory. After the initial combina¬ 
tion of foreign attack and domestic counter-revolution had been beaten 
off (1793-4) there was only one short period, before the end, when the 
French armies were seriously on the defensive: in 1799 when the second 
coalition mobilized the formidable Russian army under Suvorov for 
its first operations in Western Europe. For all practical purposes the 
list of campaigns and land battles between 1794 and 1812 is one of 
virtually uninterrupted French triumph. The reason lies in the Revo¬ 
lution in France. Its political radiation abroad was not, as we have 
seen, decisive. At most we might claim that it prevented the population 
of the reactionary states from resisting the French, who brought them 
liberty; but in fact the military strategy and tactics of orthodox 
eighteenth-century states neither expected nor welcomed civilian 
participation in warfare: Frederick the Great had firmly told his loyal 
Berliners, who offered to resist the Russians, to leave war to the pro¬ 
fessionals to whom it belonged. But it transformed the warfare of the 
French and made them immeasurably superior to the armies of the 
old regime. Technically the old armies were better trained and disci¬ 
plined, and where these qualities were decisive, as in naval warfare, 
the French were markedly inferior. They were good privateers and 
hit-and-run raiders, but could not compensate for the lack of sufficient 
trained seamen and above all competent naval officers, a class deci- 



mated by the Revolution, for it came largely from the royalist Norman 
and Breton gentry, and which could not be rapidly improvised. In six 
major and eight minor naval engagements between the British and the 
French, the French losses in men were something like ten times those 
of the British. 2 But where improvised organization, mobility, flexibility 
and above all sheer offensive courage and morale counted, the French 
had no rivals. These advantages did not depend on any man’s military 
genius, for the military record of the French before Napoleon took 
charge was striking enough, and the average quality of French general¬ 
ship was not exceptional. But it tnay well have depended in part on the 
rejuvenation of the French cadres at home or abroad, which is one of 
the chief consequences of any revolution. In 1806 out of 142 generals 
in the mighty Prussian army, seventy-nine were over sixty years of age, 
as were a quarter of all regimental commanders. 8 But in 1806 Napoleon 
(who had been a general at the age of twenty-four), Murat (who had 
commanded a brigade at twenty-six), Ney (who did so at twenty- 
seven) and Davout, were all between twenty-six and thirty-seven 
years old. 


The relative monotony of French success makes it unnecessary to discuss 
the military operations of the war on land in any great detail. In 
1793-4 the French preserved the Revolution. In 1794-5 they occupied 
the Low Countries, the Rhineland, parts of Spain, Switzerland and 
Savoy (and Liguria). In 1796 Napoleon’s celebrated Italian campaign 
gave them all Italy and broke the first coalition against France. 
Napoleon’s expedition to Malta, Egypt and Syria (1797-9) was cut 
off from its base by the naval power of the British, and in his absence 
the second coalition expelled the French from Italy and threw them 
back to Germany. The defeat of the allied armies in Switzerland (battle 
of Zurich, 1799) saved France from invasion, and soon after Napoleon’s 
return and seizure of power the French were on the offensive again. 
By 1801 they had imposed peace on the remaining continental allies, 
by 1802 even on the British. Thereafter French supremacy in the 
regions conquered or controlled in 1794-8 remained unquestioned. 
A renewed attempt to launch war against them, in 1805-7, merely 
brought French influence to the borders of Russia. Austria was defeated 
in 1805 at the battle of Austerlitz in Moravia and peace was imposed 
on her. Prussia, which entered separately and late, was destroyed at 
the battles of Jena and Auerstaedt in 1806, and dismembered. Russia, 
though defeated at Austerlitz, mauled at Eylau (1807) and defeated 



again at Friedland (1807), remained intact as a military power. The 
Treaty of Tilsit (1807) treated her with justifiable respect, though 
establishing French hegemony over the rest of the continent, omitting 
Scandinavia and the Turkish Balkans. An Austrian attempt to shake 
free in 1809 was defeated at the batdes of Aspem-Essling and Wagram. 
However, the revolt of the Spaniards in 1808, against the imposition of 
Napoleon’s brother Joseph as their king, opened up a field of operations 
for the British, and maintained constant military activity in the 
Peninsula, unaffected by the periodic defeats and retreats of the 
British (e.g. in 1809-10). 

On the sea, however, the French were by this time completely 
defeated. After the battle of Trafalgar (1805) any chance, not merely of 
invading Britain across the channel but of maintaining contact overseas, 
disappeared. No way of defeating Britain appeared to exist except 
economic pressure, and this Napoleon attempted to exert effectively 
through the Continental System (1806). The difficulties of imposing 
this blockade effectively undermined the stability of the Tilsit settlement 
and led to the break with Russia, which was the turning-point of 
Napoleon’s fortunes. Russia was invaded and Moscow occupied. Had 
the Tsar made peace, as most of Napoleon’s enemies had done under 
similar circumstances, the gamble would have come off. But he did 
not, and Napoleon faced either endless further war without a clear 
prospect of victory, or retreat. Both were equally disastrous. The French 
army’s methods as we have seen assumed rapid campaigns in areas 
sufficiently wealthy and densely peopled for it to live off the land. But 
what worked in Lombardy or the Rhineland, where such procedures 
had been first developed, and was still feasible in central Europe, failed 
utterly in the vast, empty and impoverished spaces of Poland and 
Russia. Napoleon was defeated not so much by the Russian winter as 
by his failure to keep the Grand Army properly supplied. The retreat 
from Moscow destroyed the Army. Of the 610,000 men who had at one 
time or another crossed the Russian frontier, 100,000 or so recrossed it. 

Under these circumstances the final coalition against the French 
was joined not only by her old enemies and victims, but by all those 
anxious to be on what was now clearly going to be the winning side; 
only the king of Saxony left his adhesion too late. A new, and largely 
raw, French army was defeated at Leipzig (1813), and the allies 
advanced inexorably into France, in spite of the dazzling manoeuvres 
of Napoleon, while the British advanced into it from the Peninsula. 
Paris was occupied and the Emperor resigned on the 6th of April 1814. 
He attempted to restore his power in 18x5, but the battle of Waterloo 
(June 1815) ended it. 




In the course of these decades of war the political frontiers of Europe 
were redrawn several times. Here we need consider only those changes 
which, in one way or another, were sufficiently permanent to outlast 
the defeat of Napoleon. 

The most important of these was a general rationalization of the 
European political map, especially in Germany and Italy. In terms of 
political geography, the French Revolution ended the European middle 
ages. The characteristic modern state, which had been evolving for 
several centuries, is a territorially coherent and unbroken area with 
sharply defined frontiers, governed by a single sovereign authority and 
according to a single fundamental system of administration and law. 
(Since the French Revolution it has also been assumed that it should 
represent a single ‘nation’ or linguistic group, but at this stage a 
sovereign territorial state did not yet imply this.) The characteristic 
European feudal state, though it could sometimes look like this, as for 
instance in medieval England, made no such requirements. It was 
patterned much more on the ‘estate’. Just as the term ‘the estates of the 
Duke of Bedford’ implies neither that they should all be in a single 
block, nor that they should all be directly managed by their owner, or 
held on the same tenancies or terms, nor that sub-tenancies should be 
excluded, so the feudal state of Western Europe did not exclude a 
complexity which would appear wholly intolerable today. By 1789 
these complexities were already felt to be troublesome. Foreign 
enclaves found themselves deep in some state’s territory, like the papal 
city of Avignon in France. Territories within one state found them¬ 
selves, for historical reasons, also dependent on another lord who now 
happened to be part of another state and therefore, in modern terms, 
under dual sovereignty.* ‘Frontiers’ in the form of customs-barriers ran 
between different provinces of the same state. The empire of the Holy 
Roman Emperor contained his private principalities, accumulated over 
the centuries and never adequately standardized or unified—the head 
of the House of Habsburg did not even have a single title to describe 
his rule over all his territories until 1804I—and imperial authority over 
a variety of territories, ranging from great powers in their own right 
like the kingdom of Prussia (itself not fully unified as such until 1807), 
through principalities of all sizes, to independent city-state republics 
and ‘free imperial knights’ whose estates, often no bigger than a few 

* A lone European survivor of this genus is the republic of Andorra, which is under the 
dual suzerainty of the Spanish Bishop of Urgel and the President of the French Republic. 

t He was merely, in his single person, Duke of Austria, King of Hungary, King of Bohemia, 
Count of Tyrol, etc. 



acres, happened to have no superior lord. Each of these in turn, if large 
enough, showed the same lack of territorial unity and standardization, 
depending on the vagaries of a long history of piece-meal acquisition 
and the divisions and reunifications of the family heritage. The complex 
of economic, administrative, ideological and power-considerations 
which tend to impose a minimum size of territory and population on 
the modern unit of government, and make us today vaguely uneasy at 
the thought of, say, UN membership for Liechtenstein, did not yet 
apply to any extent. Consequently, especially in Germany and Italy, 
small and dwarf states abounded. 

The Revolution and the consequent wars abolished a good many of 
these relics, partly from revolutionary zeal for territorial unification 
and standardization, partly by exposing the small and weak states to 
the greed of their larger neighbours repeatedly and for an unusually 
long period. Such formal survivals of an earlier age as the Holy Roman 
Empire, and most city-states and city-empires, disappeared. TheEmpire 
died in 1806, the ancient Republics of Genoa and Venice went in 1797 
and by the end of the war the German free cities had been reduced to 
the four. Another characteristic medieval survival, the independent 
ecclesiastical state, went the same way: the episcopal principalities, 
Cologne, Mainz, Treves, Salzburg and the rest, went; only the Papal 
states in central Italy survived until 1870. Annexation, peace-treaties, 
and the Congresses in which the French systematically attempted to 
reorganize the German political map (in 1797-8 and 1803) reduced the 
234 territories of the Holy Roman Empire—not counting free imperial 
knights and the like—to forty; in Italy, where generations ofjungle war¬ 
fare had already simplified the political structure-—dwarf states existed 
only at the confines of North and Central Italy—the changes were less 
drastic. Since most of these changes benefited some soundly monarchial 
state, Napoleon’s defeat merely perpetuated them. Austria would no 
more have thought of restoring the Venetian Republic, because she had 
originally acquired its territories through the operation of the French 
Revolutionary armies, than she would have thought of giving up Salz¬ 
burg (which she acquired in 1803) merely because she respected the 
Catholic Church. 

Outside Europe, of course, the territorial changes of the wars were 
the consequence of the wholesale British annexation of other people’s 
colonies and the movements of colonial liberation inspired by the 
French Revolution (as in San Domingo) or made possible, or imposed, 
by the temporary separation of colonies from their metropolis (as in 
Spanish and Portuguese'America). The British domination of the seas 
ensured that most of these changes should be irreversible, whether they 



had taken place at the expense of the French or (more often) of the 

Equally important were the institutional changes introduced directly 
or indirectly by French conquest. At the peak of their power (1810), 
the French directly governed, as part of France, all Germany left of the 
Rhine, Belgium, the Netherlands and North Germany eastwards to 
Luebeck, Savoy, Piedmont, Liguria and Italy west of the Appenines 
down to the borders of Naples, and the Illyrian provinces from Carin- 
thia down to and including Dalmatia. French family or satellite king¬ 
doms and duchies covered Spain, the rest of Italy, the rest of Rhineland- 
Westphalia, and a large part of Poland. In all these territories (except 
perhaps the Grand Duchy of Warsaw) the institutions of the French 
Revolution and the Napoleonic Empire were automatically applied, or 
were the obvious models for local administration: feudalism was form¬ 
ally abolished, French legal codes applied and so on. These changes 
proved far less reversible than the shifting of frontiers. Thus the Civil 
Code of Napoleon remained, or became once again, the foundation of 
local law in Belgium, in the Rhineland (even after its return to Prussia) 
and in Italy. Feudalism, once officially abolished, was nowhere 

Since it was evident to the intelligent adversaries of France that they 
had been defeated by the superiority of a new political system, or at 
any rate by their own failure to adopt equivalent reforms, the wars 
produced changes not only through French conquest but in reaction 
against it; in some instances—as in Spain—through both agencies. 
Napoleon’s collaborators, the afrancesados on one side, the liberal 
leaders of the anti-French Junta of Cadiz on the other, envisaged sub¬ 
stantially the same type of Spain, modernized along the lines of the 
French Revolutionary reforms; and what the ones failed to achieve, 
the others attempted. A much clearer case of reform by reaction—for 
the Spanish liberals were reformers first and anti-French only as it were 
by historical accident—was Prussia. There a form of peasant liberation 
was instituted, an army with elements of the levie en masse organized, 
legal, economic and educational reforms carried through entirely 
under the impact of the collapse of the Frederician army and state at 
Jena and Auerstaedt, and with overwhelmingly predominant purpose 
of reversing that defeat. 

In fact, it can be said with little exaggeration that no important 
continental state west of Russia and Turkey and south of Scandinavia 
emerged from these two decades of war with its domestic institutions 
wholly unaffected by the expansion or imitation of the French Revo¬ 
lution. Even the ultra-reactionary Kingdom of Naples did not actually 



re-establish legal feudalism once it had been abolished by the 

But changes in frontiers, laws and government institutions were as 
nothing compared to a third effect of these decades of revolutionary 
war: the profound transformation of the political atmosphere. When 
the French Revolution broke out, the governments of Europe regarded 
it with relative sangfroid: the mere fact that institutions changed 
suddenly, that insurrections took place, that dynasties were deposed or 
kings assassinated and executed did not in itself shock eighteenth 
century rulers, who were used to it, and who considered such changes 
in other countries primarily from the point of view of their effect on 
the balance of power and the relative position of their own. ‘The 
insurgents I expel from Geneva,’ wrote Vergennes, the famous French 
foreign minister of the old regime, ‘are agents of England, whereas the 
insurgents in America hold out the prospects of long friendship. My 
policy towards each is determined not by their political systems, but by 
their attitude towards France. That is my reason of state.’ * But by 1815 
a wholly different attitude towards revolution prevailed, and dominated 
the policy of the powers. 

It was now known that revolution in a single country could be a 
European phenomenon; that its doctrines could spread across the 
frontiers and, what was worse, its crusading armies could blow away 
the political systems of a continent. It was now known that social 
revolution was possible; that nations existed as something independent 
of states, peoples as something independent of their rulers, and even 
that the poor existed as something independent of the ruling classes. 
‘The French Revolution,’ De Bonald had observed in 1796, ‘is a unique 
event in history.’ 5 The phrase is misleading: it was a universal event. 
No country was immune from it. The French soldiers who campaigned 
from Andalusia to Moscow, from the Baltic to Syria—over a vaster area 
than any body of conquerors since the Mongols, and certainly a vaster 
area than any previous single military force in Europe except the Norse¬ 
men—pushed the universality of their revolution home more effectively 
than anything else could have done. And the doctrines and institutions 
they carried with them, even under Napoleon, from Spain to Illyria, 
were universal doctrines, as the governments knew, and as the peoples 
themselves were soon to know also. A Greek bandit and patriot expressed 
their feelings completely: 

‘According to my judgment,’ said Kolokotrones, ‘the French 

Revolution and the doings of Napoleon opened the eyes of the world. 

The nations knew nothing before, and the people thought that kings 

9 1 


were gods upon the earth and that they were bound to say that 
whatever they did was well done. Through this present change it is 
more difficult to rule the people.’ 6 


We have seen the effects of the twenty-odd years of war on the political 
structure of Europe. But what were the consequences of the actual 
process of warfare, the military mobilizations and operations, the 
political and economic measures consequent upon them? 

Paradoxically these were greatest where least concerned with the 
actual shedding of blood; except for France itself which almost certainly 
suffered higher casualties and indirect population losses than any other 
country. The men of the revolutionary and Napoleonic period were 
lucky enough to live between two periods of barbaric warfare—that of 
the seventeenth century and that of our own—which had the capacity 
to lay countries waste in a really sensational manner. No area affected 
by the wars of 1792-1815, not even in the Iberian peninsula, where 
military operations were more prolonged than anywhere else and 
popular resistance and reprisal made them more savage, was devastated 
as parts of Central and Eastern Europe were in the Thirty Years’ and 
Northern Wars of the seventeenth century, Sweden and Poland in the 
early eighteenth, or large parts of the world in war and civil war in the 
twentieth. The long period of economic improvement which preceded 
1789 meant that famine and its companion, plague and pestilence, did 
not add excessively to the ravages of battle and plunder; at any rate 
until after 1811. (The major period of famine occurred after the wars, 
in 1816-17.) The military campaigns tended to be short and sharp, 
and the armaments used—relatively light and mobile artillery—not 
very destructive by modern standards. Sieges were uncommon. Fire 
was probably the greatest hazard to dwellings and the means of pro¬ 
duction, and small houses or farms were easily rebuilt. The only 
material destruction really difficult to make good quickly in a pre¬ 
industrial economy is that of timber, fruit- or olive-groves, which take 
many years to grow, and there does not seem to have been much 
of that. 

Consequently the sheer human losses due to these two decades of 
war do not appear to have been, by modern standards, frighteningly 
high; though in fact no government made any attempt to calculate 
them, and all our modern estimates are vague to the point of guess¬ 
work, except those for the French and a few special cases. One million 
war dead for the entire period 7 compares favourably with the losses of 



any single major belligerent in the four and a half years of World War I, 
or for that matter with the 600,000 or so dead of the American Civil 
War of 1861-5. Even two millions would not, for more than two 
decades of general warfare, appear particularly murderous, when we 
remember the extraordinary killing capacity of famines and epidemics 
in those days: as late as 1865 a cholera epidemic in Spain is reported 
as having claimed 236,744 victims. 8 In fact, no country claims a signifi¬ 
cant slowing down of the rate of population growth during this period, 
except perhaps France. 

For most inhabitants of Europe other than the combatants, the war 
probably did not mean more than an occasional direct interruption of 
the normal tenor of life, if it meant even that. Jane Austen’s country 
families went about their business as though it were not there. Fritz 
Reuter’s Mecklenburgers recalled the time of foreign occupation as one 
of small anecdote rather than drama; old Herr Kuegelgen, remember¬ 
ing his childhood in Saxony (one of the ‘cockpits of Europe’ whose 
geographical and political situation attracted armies and battles as only 
Belgium and Lombardy did besides), merely recalled the odd weeks of 
armies marching into or quartered in Dresden. Admittedly the number 
of armed men involved was much higher than had been common in 
earlier wars, though it was not extraordinary by modem standards. 
Even conscription did not imply the call-up of more than a fraction of 
the men affected: the Cote d’Or department of France in Napoleon’s 
reign supplied only 11,000 men out of its 350,000 inhabitants, or 3 • 15 
per cent, and between 1800 and 1815 no more than 7 per cent of the 
total population of France were called up, as against 21 per cent in the 
much shorter period in the first world war. 6 Still, in absolute figures this 
was a very large number. The levie en masse of 1793-4 put perhaps 
630,000 men under arms (out of a theoretical call-up of 770,000); 
Napoleon’s peacetime strength in 1805 was 400,000 or so, and at the 
outset of the campaign against Russia in 1812 the Grande Armee com¬ 
prised 700,000 men (300,000 of them non-French), without counting 
the French troops in the rest of the continent, notably in Spain. The 
permanent mobilizations of the adversaries of France were very much 
smaller, if only because (with the exception of Britain) they were much 
less continuously in the field, as well as because financial troubles and 
organizational difficulties often made full mobilization difficult, e.g. for 
the Austrians who in 1813 were entitled under the peace treaty of 1809 
to 150,000 men, but had only 60,000 actually ready for a campaign. 
The British, on the other hand, kept a surprisingly large number of men 
mobilized. At their peak (1813-14), with enough money voted for 
300,000 in the regular army and 140,000 seamen and marines, they 



may well have carried a proportionately heavier load on their man¬ 
power than the French did for most of the war.* 10 

Losses were heavy, though once again not excessively so by the 
murderous standards of our century; but curiously few of them were 
actually due to the enemy. Only 6 or 7 per cent of the British sailors 
who died between 1793 and 1815 succumbed to the French; 80 per 
cent died from disease or accident. Death on the battlefield was a small 
risk; only 2 per cent of the casualties at Austerlitz, perhaps 8 or 9 per 
cent of those at Waterloo, were actually killed. The really frightening 
risk of war was neglect, filth, poor organization, defective medical 
services and hygienic ignorance, which massacred the wounded, the 
prisoners, and in suitable climatic conditions (as in the tropics) 
practically everybody. 

Actual military operations killed people, directly and indirectly, and 
destroyed productive equipment, but, as we have seen, they did neither 
to an extent which seriously interfered with the normal tenor of a 
country’s life and development. The economic requirements of war, 
and economic warfare, had more far-reaching consequences. 

By the standards of the eighteenth century, the revolutionary and 
Napoleonic wars were expensive beyond precedent; and indeed their 
cost in money impressed contemporaries perhaps even more than their 
cost in lives. Certainly the fall in the financial burden of war in the 
generation after Waterloo was far more striking than the fall in the human 
cost: it is estimated that while wars between 1821 and 1850 cost an 
average of less than 10 per cent per year of the equivalent figure for 
1790-1820, the annual average of war-deaths remained at a little less 
than 25 per cent of the earlier period. 11 How was this cost to be paid? 
The traditional method had been a combination of monetary inflation 
(the issue of new currency to pay the government’s bills), loans, and 
the minimum of special taxation, for taxes created public discontent 
and (where they had to be granted by parliaments or estates) political 
trouble. But the extraordinary financial demands and conditions of the 
wars broke or transformed all these. 

In the first place they familiarized, the world with unconvertible 
paper money.f On the continent the ease with which pieces of paper 
could be printed, to pay government obligations, proved irresistible. 
The French Assignats (1789) were at first simply French Treasury 
bonds (tons de tresor) with 5 per cent interest, designed to anticipate the 
proceeds of the eventual sale of church lands. Within a few months 

* As these figures are based on the money authorized by Parliament, the number of men 
raised was certainly smaller. 

t In actual fact any kind of paper money, whether exchangeable upon demand for bullion 
or not, was relatively uncommon before the end of the eighteenth century. 



they had been transformed into currency, and each successive financial 
crisis caused them to be printed in greater quantity, and to depreciate 
more steeply, aided by the increasing lack of confidence of the public. 
By the outbreak of war they had depreciated about 40 per cent, by 
June 1793 about two-thirds. The Jacobin regime maintained them 
fairly well, but the orgy of economic decontrol after Thermidor reduced 
them progressively to about one three-hundredth of their face value, 
until official state bankruptcy in 1797 put an end to a monetary 
episode which prejudiced the French against any kind of banknote for 
the better part of a century. The paper currencies of other countries 
had less catastrophic careers, though by 1810 the Russian had fallen 
to 20 per cent of face value and the Austrian (twice devalued, in 1810 
and 1815) to 10 per cent. The British avoided this particular form of 
financing war and were familiar enough with banknotes not to shy 
away from them, but even so the Bank of England could not resist the 
double pressure of the vast government demand—largely sent abroad 
as loans and subsidies—the private run on its bullion and the special 
strain of a famine year. In 1797 gold payments to private clients were 
suspended and the inconvertible banknote became, de facto, the effective 
currency: the £ 1 note was one result. The ‘paper pound’ never depre¬ 
ciated as seriously as continental currencies—its lowest mark was 71 per 
cent of face value and by 1817 it was back to 98 per cent—but it did 
last very much longer than had been anticipated. Not until 1821 were 
cash payments fully resumed. 

The other alternative to taxation was loans, but the dizzying rise in 
the public debt produced by the unexpectedly heavy and prolonged 
expenditure of war frightened even the most prosperous, wealthy and 
financially sophisticated countries. After five years of financing the 
war essentially by loans, the British Government was forced into the 
unprecedented and portentous step of paying for the war out of direct 
taxation, introducing an income tax for this purpose (1799-1816). The 
rapidly increasing wealth of the country made this perfectly feasible, 
and the cost of the war henceforth was essentially met out of current, 
income. Had adequate taxation been imposed from the beginning, the 
National Debt would not have risen from £228 millions in 1793 to 
£876 millions in 1816, and the annual debt charge from £10 millions 
in 1792 to £30 millions in 1815, which was greater than the total govern¬ 
ment outlay in the last pre-war year. The social consequences of such indebt¬ 
edness were very great, for in effect it acted as a funnel for diverting 
increasingly large amounts of the tax revenue paid by the population 
at large into the pockets of the small class of rich ‘fund-holders’ against 
whom spokesmen of the poor and the small businessmen and farmers, 



like William Cobbett, launched their journalistic thunderbolts. 
Abroad loans were mainly raised (at least on the anti-French side) from 
the British Government, which had long followed a policy of subsidizing 
military allies: between 1794 and 1804 it raised £80 millions for this 
purpose. The main direct beneficiaries were the international financial 
houses—British or foreign, but operating increasingly through London, 
which became the main centre of international financing—like the 
Barings and the House of Rothschild, who acted as intermediaries in 
these transactions. (Meyer Amschel Rothschild, the founder, sent his 
son Nathan from Frankfurt to London in 1798.) The great age of these 
international financiers came after the wars, when they financed the 
major loans designed to help old regimes recover from war and new 
ones to stabilize themselves. But the foundation of the era when the 
Barings and the Rothschilds dominated world finance, as nobody since 
the great German banks of the sixteenth century had done, was 
constructed during the wars. 

However, the technicalities of wartime finance are less important 
than the general economic effect of the great diversion of resources 
from peacetime to military uses, which a major war entails. It is clearly 
wrong to regard the war-effort as entirely drawn from, or at the expense 
of, the civilian economy. The armed forces may to some extent mobilize 
only men who would otherwise be unemployed, or even unemployable 
within the limits of the economy.* War industry, though in the short 
run diverting men and materials from the civilian market, may in the 
long run stimulate developments which ordinary considerations of 
profit in peacetime would have neglected. This was proverbially the 
case with the iron and steel industries which, as we have seen (see 
chapter 2), enjoyed no possibilities of rapid expansion comparable to 
the cotton textiles, and therefore traditionally relied for their stimulus on 
government and war. ‘During the eighteenth century,’ Dionysius 
Lardner wrote in 1831, ‘iron foundery became almost identified with 
the casting of cannon.’ 12 We may well therefore regard part of the 
diversion of capital resources from peacetime uses as in the nature of 
long-term investment in capital goods industries and technical develop¬ 
ment. Among the technological innovations thus created by the revo¬ 
lutionary and Napoleonic wars were the beet-sugar industry on t{ie 
continent (as a replacement for imported cane-sugar from the West 
Indies), and the canned food industry (which arose from the British 
navy’s search for foodstuffs which could be indefinitely preserved on 
shipboard). Nevertheless, making all allowances, a major war does 

* This was the basis of the strong tradition of emigration for mercenary military service 
in overpopulated mountain regions like Switzerland. 



mean a major diversion of resources, and might even, under conditions 
of mutual blockade, mean that the wartime and peacetime sector of 
the economy competed directly for the same scarce resources. 

An obvious consequence of such competition is inflation, and we 
know that in fact the period of war pushed the slope of the slowly 
rising eighteenth-century price-level steeply upwards in all countries 
though some of this was due to monetary devaluation. This in itself 
implies, or reflects, a certain redistribution of incomes, which has 
economic consequences; for instance, towards businessmen and away 
from wage-earners (since wages normally lag behind prices), and 
towards agriculture, which proverbially welcomes the high prices of 
wartime, and away from manufactures. Conversely, the end of the war¬ 
time demand, which releases a mass of resources—including men— 
hitherto employed by war, on to the peacetime market, brought, as 
always, correspondingly more intense problems of readjustment. To 
take an obvious example: between 1814 and 1818 the strength of the 
British army was cut by about 150,000 men, or more than the con¬ 
temporary population of Manchester, and the level of wheat prices fell 
from 108-5 shillings a quarter in 1813 to 64-2 shillings in 1815. In fact 
we know the period of post-war adjustment to have been one of 
abnormal economic difficulties all over Europe; intensified moreover 
by the disastrous harvests of 1816-17. 

We ought, however, to ask a more general question. How far did the 
diversion of resources due to the war impede or slow down the economic 
development of different countries? Clearly this question is of particular 
importance for France and Britain, the two major economic powers, 
and the two carrying the heaviest economic burden. The French 
burden was due not so much to the war in its later stages, for this was 
designed largely to pay for itself at the expense of the foreigners whose 
territories the conquering armies looted or requisitioned, and on whom 
they imposed levies of men, materials and money. About half the 
Italian tax revenue went to the French in 1805-12. 13 It probably did 
not do so, but it was also clearly much cheaper—in real as well as 
monetary terms—than it would otherwise have been. The real dis¬ 
ruption of the French economy was due to the decade of revolution, 
civil war and chaos, which, for instance, reduced the turnover of the 
Seine-Inferieure (Rouen) manufactures from 41 to 15 millions between 
1790 and 1795, and the number of their workers from 246,000 to 86,000. 
To this must be added the loss of overseas commerce due to the British 
control of the seas. The British burden was due to the cost of carrying 
not only the country’s own war effort but, through the traditional 
subsidies to continental allies, some of that for other states. In monetary 



terms the British carried by far the heaviest load during the war: it 
cost them between three and four times as much as it did the French. 

The answer to the general question is easier for France than for 
Britain, for there is little doubt that the French economy remained 
relatively stagnant, and the French industry and commerce would 
almost certainly have expanded further and faster but for the revolution 
and the wars. Though the country’s economy advanced very substan¬ 
tially under Napoleon, it could not compensate for the regression and 
the lost impetus of the 1790s. For the British the answer is less obvious, 
for their expansion was meteoric, and the only question is whether, 
but for the war, it would have been more rapid still. The generally 
accepted answer today is that it would. 11 For the other countries the 
question is generally of less importance where economic development 
was slow, or fluctuating as in much of the Habsburg Empire, and 
where the quantitative impact of the war-effort was relatively small. 

Of course such bald statements beg the question. Even the frankly 
economic wars of the British in the seventeenth and eighteenth cen¬ 
turies were not supposed to advance economic development by them¬ 
selves or by stimulating the economy, but by victory: by eliminating 
competitors and capturing new markets. Their ‘cost’ in disrupted 
business, diversion of resources and the like was measured against their 
‘profit’, which was expressed in the relative position of the belligerent 
competitors after the war. By these standards the wars of 1793-1815 
clearly more than paid for themselves. At the cost of a slight slowing 
down of an economic expansion which nevertheless remained gigantic, 
Britain decisively eliminated her nearest possible competitor and be¬ 
came the ‘workshop of the world’ for two generations. In terms of every 
industrial or commercial index, Britain was very much further ahead 
of all other states (with the possible exception of the USA) than she 
had been in 1789. If we believe that the temporary elimination of her 
rivals and the virtual monopoly of maritime and colonial markets were 
an essential precondition of Britain’s further industrialization, the price 
of achieving it was modest. If we argue that by 1789 her head start was 
already sufficient to ensure British economic supremacy without a 
long war, we may still hold that the cost of defending it against the 
French threat to recover by political and military means the ground 
lost in economic competition was not excessive. 




The existing concert (of the Powers ) is their only perfect security against the revo- 
tionary embers more or less existing in every state of Europe; and. .. true ivisdom is to 
keep down the petty contentions of ordinary times, and to stand together in support of 
the established principles of social order. 

Castlereagh 1 

Vempereur de Russie est de plus le seul souverain parfaitement en Rat de se porter 
dls d present aux plus vastes entreprises. II est d la Ute de la seulr armie vraiment 
disponible qui soit aujourcThui formie in Europe. 

Gcntz, March 24, i 8 i 8 % 

After more than twenty years of almost unbroken war and 
revolution, the victorious old regimes faced problems of peace-making 
and peace-preservation which were particularly difficult and dangerous. 
The debris of two decades had to be cleared away, the territorial loot 
redistributed. What was more, it was evident to all intelligent statesmen 
that no major European war was henceforth tolerable; for such a war 
would almost certainly mean a new revolution, and consequently the 
destruction of the old regimes. ‘In Europe’s present state of social 
illness,’ said King Leopold of the Belgians (Queen Victoria’s wise if 
somewhat boring uncle), k propos of a later crisis, ‘it would be unheard- 
of to let loose ... a general war. Such a war . . . would certainly bring 
a conflict of principles, (and) from what I know of Europe, I think 
that such a conflict would change her form and overthrow her whole 
structure.’ 3 Kings and statesmen were neither wiser nor more pacific 
than before. But they were unquestionably more frightened. 

They were also unusually successful. There was, in fact, no general 
European war, nor any conflict in which one great power opposed 
another on the battlefield, between the defeat of Napoleon and the 
Crimean War of 1854-6. Indeed, apart from the Crimean War, there 
was no war involving more than two great powers between 1815 and 
1914. The citizen of the twentieth century ought to appreciate the 
magnitude of this achievement. It was all the more impressive, because 
the international scene was far from tranquil, the occasions for conflict 
abundant. The revolutionary movements (which we shall consider in 
chapter 6) destroyed the hard-won international stability time and 



again: in the 1820s, notably in Southern Europe, the Balkans and 
Latin America, after 1830 in Western Europe (notably Belgium), and 
again on the eve of the 1848 Revolution. The decline of the Turkish 
Empire, threatened both by internal dissolution and the ambitions of 
rival great powers—mainly Britain, Russia and to a lesser extent 
France—made the so-called ‘Eastern Question’ a permanent cause of 
crisis: in the 1820s it cropped up over Greece, in the 1830s over Egypt, 
and though it calmed down after a particularly acute conflict in 
1839-41, it remained as potentially explosive as before. Britain and 
Russia were on the worst of terms over the Near East and the 
no-man’s land between the two empires in Asia. France was far from 
reconciled to a position so much more modest than the one she had 
occupied before 1815. Yet in spite of all these shoals and whirlpools, 
the diplomatic vessels navigated a difficult stretch of water without 

Our generation, which has failed so much more spectacularly in the 
fundamental task of international diplomacy, that of avoiding general 
wars, has therefore tended to look back upon the statesmen and 
methods of 1815-48 with a respect that their immediate successors did 
not always feel. Talleyrand, who presided over French foreign policy 
from 1814 to 1835, remains the model for the French diplomat to this 
day. Castlereagh, George Canning and Viscount Palmerston, who were 
Britain’s foreign secretaries respectively in 1812-22, 1822-7 and all 
non-Tory administrations from 1830 to 1852* have acquired a mis¬ 
leading and retrospective stature of diplomatic giants. Prince Metter- 
nich, the chief minister of Austria throughout the entire period from 
Napoleon’s defeat to his own overthrow in 1848, is today seen less 
often as a mere rigid enemy of all change and more often as a wise 
maintainer of stability than used to be the case. However, even the eye 
of faith has been unable to detect foreign ministers worth idealizing in 
the Russia of Alexander I (1801-25) an d Nicholas I (1825-55) and in 
the relatively unimportant Prussia of our period. 

In a sense the praise is justified. The settlement of Europe after the 
Napoleonic Wars was no more just and moral than any other, but 
given the entirely anti-liberal and anti-national (i.e. anti-revolutionary) 
purpose of its makers, it was realistic and sensible. No attempt was 
made to exploit the total victory over the French, who must not be 
provoked into a new bout of Jacobinism. The frontiers of the defeated 
country were left a shade better than they had been in 1789, the 
financial indemnity was not unreasonable, the occupation by foreign 
troops short-lived, and by 1818 France was readmitted as a full member 

* i.e. throughout the period except for a few months in 1834-5 and in 1841-6. 



of the ‘concert of Europe’. (But for Napoleon’s unsuccessful return in 
1815 these terms would have been even more moderate.) The Bourbons 
were restored, but it was understood that they had to make concessions 
to the dangerous spirit of their subjects. The major changes of the 
Revolution were accepted, and that inflammatory device, a constitu¬ 
tion, was granted to them—though of course in an extremely moderate 
form—under the guise of a Charter ‘freely conceded’ by the returned 
absolute monarch, Louis XVIII. 

The map of Europe was redrawn without concern for either the 
aspirations of the peoples or the rights of the numerous princes dis¬ 
possessed at one time or another by the French, but with considerable 
concern for the balance of the five great powers which emerged from 
the wars: Russia, Britain, France, Austria and Prussia. Only the first 
three of these really counted. Britain had no territorial ambitions on 
the continent, though she preferred to keep control or a protective 
hand over points of maritime and commercial importance. She retained 
Malta, the Ionian Islands and Heligoland, maintained a careful eye 
on Sicily, and benefited most evidently by the transfer of Norway from 
Denmark to Sweden, which prevented a single state from controlling 
the entry to the Baltic Sea, and the union of Holland and Belgium (the 
former Austrian Netherlands) which put the mouth of the Rhine and 
Scheldt in the hands of a harmless state, but one strong enough— 
especially when assisted by the barrier fortresses in the south—to 
resist the well-known French appetite for Belgium. Both arrangements 
were deeply unpopular with Belgians and Norwegians, and the latter 
only lasted until the 1830 Revolution. It was then replaced, after some 
Franco-British friction, by a small permanently neutralized kingdom 
under a prince of British choice. Outside Europe, of course, British 
territorial ambitions were much greater, though the total control of all 
seas by the British navy made it largely irrelevant whether any territory 
was actually under the British flag or not, except on the north-western 
confines of India, where only weak or chaotic principalities or regions 
separated the British and the Russian Empires. But the rivaliy between 
Britain and Russia hardly affected the area which had to be resettled 
in 1814-15. In Europe British interests merely required no power to 
be too strong. 

Russia, the decisive military power on land, satisfied her limited 
territorial ambitions by the acquisition of Finland (at the expense of 
Sweden), Bessarabia (at the expense of Turkey), and of the greater 
part of Poland, which was granted a degree of autonomy under the 
local faction that had always favoured a Russian alliance. (After the 
rising of 1830-1 this autonomy was abolished.) The remainder of 



Poland was distributed between Prussia and Austria, with the exception 
of the city republic of Cracow, which in turn did not survive the rising 
of 1846. For the rest Russia was content to exercise a remote, but far 
from ineffectual, hegemony over all absolute principalities east of 
France, her main interest being that revolution should be avoided. 
Tsar Alexander sponsored a Holy Alliance for this purpose, which 
Austria and Prussia joined, but Britain did not. From the British point of 
view this virtual Russian hegemony over most of Europe was perhaps 
a less than ideal arrangement, but it reflected the military realities, and 
could not be prevented except by allowing France a rather greater 
degree of power than any of her former adversaries were prepared for 
or at the intolerable cost of war. France’s status as a great power was 
clearly recognized, but that was as far as anyone was as yet prepared 
to go, 

Austria and Prussia were really great powers by courtesy only; or so 
it was believed—rightly—in view of Austria’s well-known weakness in 
times of international crisis and—wrongly—in view of Prussia’s col¬ 
lapse in 1806. Their chief function was to act as European stabilizers. 
Austria received back her Italian provinces plus the former Venetian 
territories in Italy and Dalmatia, and the protectorate over the lesser 
principalities of North and Central Italy, mostly ruled by Habsburg 
relatives (except for Piedmont-Sardinia, which swallowed the former 
Genoese Republic to act as a more efficient buffer between Austria and 
France). If ‘order’ was to be kept anywhere in Italy, Austria was the 
policeman on duty. Since her only interest was stability—anything 
else risked her disintegration—she could be relied upon to act as a 
permanent safeguard against any attempts to unsettle the continent. 
Prussia benefited by the British desire to have a reasonably strong 
power in Western Germany, a region whose principalities had long 
tended to fall in with France, or which could be dominated by France, 
and received the Rhineland, whose immense economic potentialities 
aristocratic diplomats failed to allow for. She also benefited by the 
conflict between Britain and Russia over what the British considered 
excessive Russian expansion in Poland. The net result of complex 
negotiations punctuated with threats of war was that she yielded part 
of her former Polish territories to Russia, but received instead half of 
wealthy and industrial Saxony. In territorial and economic terms 
Prussia gained relatively more from the 1815 settlement than any other 
power, and in fact became for the first time a European great power 
in terms of real resources; though this did not become evident to the 
politicians until the 1860s. Austria, Prussia and the herd of lesser 
German states, whose main international function was to provide 



good breeding-stock for the royal houses of Europe, watched each 
other within the German Confederation, though Austrian seniority 
was not challenged. The main international function of the Con¬ 
federation was to keep the lesser states outside the French orbit into 
which they traditionally tended to gravitate. In spite of nationalist 
disclaimers, they had been far from unhappy as Napoleonic satellites. 

The statesmen of 1815 were wise enough to know that no settlement, 
however carefully carpentered, would in the long run withstand the 
strain of state rivalries and changing circumstance. Consequently they 
set out to provide a mechanism for maintaining peace—i.e. settling all 
outstanding problems as they arose—by means of regular congresses. 
It was of course understood that the crucial decisions in these were 
played by the ‘great powers’ (the term itself is an invention of this 
period). The ‘concert of Europe’—another term which came into use 
then-—did not correspond to a United Nations, but rather to the 
permanent members of the UN’s Security Council. However, regular 
congresses were only held for a few years—from 1818, when France 
was officially readmitted to the concert, to 1822. 

The congress system broke down, because it could not outlast the 
years immediately following the Napoleonic wars, when the famine 
of 1816-17 an d business depressions maintained a lively but unjustified 
fear of social revolution everywhere, including Britain. After the return 
of economic stability about 1820 every disturbance of the 1815 settle¬ 
ment merely revealed the divergences between the interests of the 
powers. Faced with a first bout of unrest and insurrection in 1820-22 
only Austria stuck to the principle that all such movements must be 
immediately and automatically put down in the interests of the social 
order (and of Austrian territorial integrity). Over Germany, Italy and 
Spain the three monarchies of the ‘Holy Alliance’ and France agreed, 
though the latter, exercising the job of international policeman with 
gusto in Spain (1823), was less interested in European stability than in 
widening the scope of her diplomatic and military activities, particu¬ 
larly in Spain, Belgium and Italy where the bulk of her foreign invest¬ 
ments lay. 4 Britain stood out. This was partly because—especially after 
the flexible Canning replaced the rigid reactionary Castlereagh (1822) 
—it was convinced that political reforms in absolutist Europe were 
sooner or later inevitable, and because British politicians had no sym¬ 
pathy for absolutism, but also because the application of the policing- 
principle would merely have brought rival powers (notably France) 
into Latin America, which was, as we have seen, a British economic 
colony and a very vital one at that. Hence the British supported the 
independence of the Latin American states, as also did the USA in the 



Monroe Declaration of 1833, a manifesto which had no practical value 
—if anything protected Latin American independence it was the 
British navy—but considerable prophetic interest. Over Greece the 
powers were even more divided. Russia, with all its dislike of revolu¬ 
tions, could not but benefit from the movement of an Orthodox 
people, which weakened the Turks and must rely largely on Russian 
help. (Moreover, she had a treaty right to intervene in Turkey in 
defence of Orthodox Christians.) Fear of unilateral Russian inter¬ 
vention, philhellene pressure, economic interests and the general 
conviction that the disintegration of Turkey could not be prevented, 
but could at best be organized, eventually led the British from 
hostility through neutrality to an informal pro-hellenic intervention. 
Greece thus (1829) won her independence through both Russian and 
British help. The international damage was minimized by turning the 
country into a kingdom under one of the many available small German 
princes, which would not be a mere Russian satellite. But the perman¬ 
ence of the 1815 settlement, the congress system, and the principle of 
suppressing all revolutions lay in ruins. 

The revolutions of 1830 destroyed it utterly, for they affected not 
merely small states but a great power itself, France. In effect they 
removed all Europe west of the Rhine from the the police-operations 
of the Holy Alliance. Meanwhile the ‘Eastern Question’—the problem 
of what to do about the inevitable disintegration of Turkey—turned 
the Balkans and the Levant into a battlefield of the powers, notably 
of Russia and Britain. The ‘Eastern Question’ disturbed the balance of 
forces, because everything conspired to strengthen the Russians, whose 
main diplomatic object, then as later, was to win control of the straits 
between Europe and Asia Minor which controlled her access to the 
Mediterranean. This was a matter not merely of diplomatic and mili¬ 
tary importance, but with the growth of Ukrainian grain exports, of 
economic urgency. also. Britain, concerned as usual about the ap¬ 
proaches to India, was deeply worried about the southward march 
of the one great power which could reasonably threaten it. The 
obvious policy was to shore up Turkey,against Russian expansion at all 
costs. (This had the additional advantage of benefiting British trade in 
the Levant, which increased in a very satisfactory manner in this 
period.) Unfortunately such a policy was wholly impracticable. The 
Turkish Empire was by no means a helpless hulk, at least in military 
terms, but it was at best capable of fighting delaying actions against 
internal rebellion (which it could still beat fairly easily) and the com¬ 
bined force of Russia and an unfavourable international situation 
(which it could not). Nor was it yet capable of modernizing itself, or 



showed much readiness to do so; though the beginnings of moderniza¬ 
tion were made under Mahmoud II (1809-39) in the 1830s. Conse¬ 
quently only the direct diplomatic and military support of Britain 
(i.e. the threat of war) could prevent the steady increase in Russian 
influence and the collapse of Turkey under her various troubles. This 
made the ‘Eastern Question’ the most explosive issue in international 
affairs after the Napoleonic Wars, the only one likely to lead to a general 
war and the only one which in fact did so in 1854-6. However, the 
very situation which loaded the international dice in favour of Russia 
and against Britain, also made Russia inclined to compromise. She 
could achieve her diplomatic objectives in two ways: either by the 
defeat and partition of Turkey and an eventual Russian occupation 
of Constantinople and the Straits, or by a virtual protectorate over 
a weak and subservient Turkey. But one or the other would always be 
open. In other words, Constantinople was never worth a major war 
to the Tsar. Thus in the 1820s the Greek war fitted in with the policy 
of partition and occupation. Russia failed to get as much out of this as 
she might have hoped, but was unwilling to press her advantage too 
far. Instead, she negotiated an extraordinarily favourable treaty at 
Unkiar Skelessi (1833) with a hard-pressed Turkey, which was now 
keenly aware of the need for a powerful protector. Britain was out¬ 
raged: the 1830s saw the genesis of a mass Russophobia which created 
the image of Russia as a sort of hereditary enemy of Britain.* Faced 
with British pressure, the Russians in turn retreated, and in the 1840s 
reverted to proposals for the partition of Turkey. 

Russo-British rivalry in the East was therefore in practice much less 
dangerous than the public sabre-rattling (especially in Britain) sug¬ 
gested. Moreover, the much greater British fear of a revival of France 
reduced its importance in any case. In fact the phrase ‘the great game’, 
which later came to be used for the cloak-and-dagger activities of the 
adventurers and secret agents of both powers who operated in the 
oriental no-man’s land between the two empires, expresses it rather 
well. What made the situation really dangerous was the unpredictable 
course of the liberation movements within Turkey and the intervention 
of other powers. Of these Austria had a considerable passive interest 
in the matter, being itself a ramshackle multinational empire, threat¬ 
ened by the movements of the very same peoples who also undermined 
Turkish stability—the Balkan Slavs, and notably the Serbs. However, 
their threat was not immediate, though it was later to provide the 
immediate occasion for World War I. France was more troublesome, 

* In fact Anglo-Russian relations, based on economic complementarity, had been tradi¬ 
tionally most amiable, and only began to deteriorate seriously after the Napoleonic wars. 



having a long record of diplomatic and economic influence in the 
Levant, which it periodically attempted to restore and extend. In par¬ 
ticular, since Napoleon’s expedition to Egypt, French influence was 
powerful in that country, whose Pasha, Mohammed Ali, a virtually 
independent ruler, could more or less disrupt or hold together the 
Turkish Empire at will. Indeed, the crises of the Eastern Question in 
the 1830s (1831-3 and 1839-41) were essentially crises in Mohammed 
Ali’s relations with his nominal sovereign, complicated in the latter 
case by French support for Egypt. However, if Russia was unwilling to 
make war overConstantinople, France neither could nor wanted to. There 
were diplomatic crises. But in the end, apart from the Crimean episode, 
there was no war over Turkey at any time in the nineteenth century. 

It is thus clear from the course of international disputes in this period 
that the inflammable material in international relations was simply not 
explosive enough to set off a major war. Of the great powers the 
Austrians and the Prussians were too weak to count for much. The 
British were satisfied. They had by 1815 gained the most complete 
victory of any power in the entire history of the world, having emerged 
from the twenty years of war against France as the only industrialized 
economy, the only naval power—the British navy in 1840 had almost 
as many ships as all other navies put together—and virtually the only 
colonial power in the world. Nothing appeared to stand in the way of 
the only major expansionist interest of British foreign policy, the 
expansion of British trade and investment. Russia, while not as satiated, 
had only limited territorial ambitions, and nothing which could for 
long—or so it appeared—stand in the way of her advance. At least 
nothing which justified a socially dangerous general war. France alone 
was a ‘dissatisfied’ power, and had the capacity to disrupt the stable 
international order. But France could do so only under one condition: 
that she once again mobilized the revolutionary energies of Jacobinism 
at home and of liberalism and nationalism abroad. For in terms of 
orthodox great-power rivalry she had been fatally weakened. She would 
never again be able, as under Louis XIV or the Revolution, to fight a 
coalition of two or more great powers on equal terms, relying merely 
on her domestic population and resources. In 1780 there were 2-5 
Frenchmen to every Englishman, but in 1830 less than three to every 
two. In 1780 there had been almost as many Frenchmen as Russians, 
but in 1830 there were almost half as many Russians again as French. 
And the pace of French economic evolution lagged fatally behind the 
British, the American, and very soon the German. 

But Jacobinism was too high a price for any French government to 
pay for its international ambitions. In 1830 and again in 1848 when 



France overthrew its regime and absolutism was shaken or destroyed 
elsewhere, the powers trembled. They could have saved themselves 
sleepless nights. In 1830-1 the French moderates were unprepared 
even to lift a finger for the rebellious Poles, with whom all French (as 
well as European liberal) opinion sympathized. ‘And Poland?’ wrote 
the old but enthusiastic Lafayette to Palmerston in 1831. ‘What will 
you do, what shall we do for her?’ 5 The answer was nothing. France 
could have readily reinforced her own resources with those of the 
European revolution; as indeed all revolutionaries hoped she would. 
But the implications of such a leap into revolutionary war frightened 
moderate liberal French governments as much as Metternich. No 
French government between 1815 and 1848 would jeopardize general 
peace in its own state interests. 

Outside the range of the European balance, of course, nothing stood 
in the way of expansion and bellicosity. In fact, though extremely large, 
the actual territorial acquisitions of white powers were limited. The 
British were content to oceupy points crucial to the naval 'control of 
the world and to their world-wide trading interests, such as the southern 
tip of Africa (taken from the Dutch during the Napoleonic wars), 
Ceylon, Singapore (which was founded at this period) and Hong Kong, 
and the exigencies of the campaign against the slave-trade—which 
satisfied both humanitarian opinion at home and the strategic interests 
of the British navy, which used it to reinforce its global monopoly— 
led them to maintain footholds along the African coasts. But on the 
whole, with one crucial exception, their view was that a world lying 
open to British trade and safeguarded by the British navy from unwel¬ 
come intrusion was more cheaply exploited without the administrative 
costs of occupation. The crucial exception was India and all that 
pertained to its control. India had to be held at all costs, as the most 
anti-colonialist free traders never doubted. Its market was of growing 
importance (cf. above pp. 34-35), and would certainly, it was held, 
suffer if India were left to herself. It was the key to the opening-up of 
the Far East, to the drug traffic and such other profitable activities 
as European businessmen wished to undertake. China was thus opened 
up in the Opium War of 1839-42. Consequently between 1814 and 
1849 the size of the British Indian empire increased by two-thirds of 
the subcontinent, as the result of a series of wars against Mahrattas, 
Nepalese, Burmans, Rajputs, Afghans, Sindis and Sikhs, and the net 
of British influence was drawn more closely round the Middle East, 
which controlled the direct route to India, organized from 1840 by 
the steamers of the P and O line, supplemented by a land-crossing of 
the Suez Isthmus. 


Though the reputation of the Russians for expansionism was far 
greater (at least among the British), their actual conquests were more 
modest. The Tsar in this period merely managed to acquire some large 
and empty stretches of Kirghiz steppe east of the Urals and some 
bitterly-contested mountain areas in the Caucasus. The USA on the 
Other hand acquired virtually its entire west, south of the Oregon 
border, by insurrection and war against the hapless Mexicans. The 
French, on the other hand, had to confine their expansionist ambitions 
to Algeria, which they invaded on a trumped-up excuse in 1830 and 
attempted to conquer in the next seventeen years. By 1847 they had 
broken the back of its resistance. 

One provision of the international peace settlement must, however, 
be mentioned separately: the abolition of the international slave-trade. 
The reasons for this were both humanitarian and economic: slavery 
was horrifying, and extremely inefficient. Moreover, from the point 
of view of the British who were the chief international champions of 
this admirable movement among the powers, the economy of 1815-48 
no longer rested, like that of the eighteenth century, on the sale of men 
and of sugar, but on that of cotton goods. The actual abolition of slavery 
came more slowly (except, of course, where the French Revolution had 
already swept it away). The British abolished it in their colonies— 
mainly the West Indies—in 1834, though soon tending to replace it, 
where large-scale plantation agriculture survived, by the import of 
indentured labourers from Asia. The French did not officially abolish 
it again until the revolution of 1848. In 1848 there was still a very great 
deal of slavery, and consequently of (illegal) slave-trading left in 
the world. 



Liberty , that nightingale with the voice of a giant, rouses the most profound sleepers. 

. . . How is it possible to think of anything today except to fightfor or against freedom? 
Those who cannot love humanity can still be great as tyrants. But how con one be 

I.udwig Boerne, February 14, 1831 1 

The governments, having lost their balance, are frightened, intimidated and thrown 
into confusion by the cries of the intermediary class of society, which, placed between 
the Kings and their subjects, breaks the sceptre of the monarch and usurps the cry of 
the people. 

Mettemich to the Tsar, 1820* 


Rarely has the incapacity of governments to hold up the 
course of history been more conclusively demonstrated than in the 
generation after 1815. To prevent a second French Revolution, or the 
even worse catastrophe of a general European revolution on the French 
model, was the supreme object of all the powers which had just spent 
more than twenty years in defeating the first; even of the British, who 
were not in sympathy with the reactionary absolutisms which re¬ 
established themselves all over Europe and knew quite well that 
reforms neither could nor ought to be avoided, but who feared a new 
Franco-Jacobin expansion more than any other international con¬ 
tingency. And yet, never in European history and rarely anywhere 
else, has revolutionism been so endemic, so general, so likely to spread 
by spontaneous contagion as well as by deliberate propaganda. 

There were three main waves of revolution in the western world 
between 1815 and 1848. (Asia and Africa as yet remained immune: 
Asia’s first major revolutions, the ‘Indian Mutiny’ and the ‘Taiping 
Rebellion’, only occurred in the 1850s.) The first occurred in 1820-4. 
In Europe it was confined mainly to the Mediterranean, with Spain 
(1820), Naples (1820) and Greece (1821) as its epicentres. Except for 
the Greek, all these risings were suppressed. The Spanish Revolution 
revived the liberation movement in Latin America, which had been 
defeated after an initial effort occasioned by Napoleon’s conquest of 



Spain in 1808 and reduced to a few remote refugees and bands. The 
three great liberators of Spanish South America, Simon BoEvar, San 
Martin and Bernardo O’Higgins, established the independence respec¬ 
tively of ‘Great Colombia’ (which included the present republics of 
Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador), of the Argentine but minus the 
inland areas of what is now Paraguay and Bolivia and the pampas 
across the River Plate where the cowboys of the Banda Oriental (now 
Uruguay) fought Argentines and Brazilians, and of Chile. San Martin, 
aided by the Chilean fleet under the British radical nobleman—the 
original of C. S. Forester’s Captain Hornblower —Cochrane, liberated 
the last stronghold of Spanish power, the viceroyalty of Peru. By 1822 
Spanish South America was free, and San Martin, a moderate and far- 
seeing man of rare self-abnegation, left it to Bolivar and republicanism 
and retired to Europe, living out his noble life in what was normally 
a refuge for debt-harried Englishmen, Boulogn,e-sur-Mer, on a pension 
from O’Higgins. Meanwhile the Spanish general sent against the sur¬ 
viving peasant guerillas in Mexico, Iturbide, made common cause 
with them under the impact of the Spanish Revolution and in 1821 
permanently established Mexican independence. In 1822 Brazil quietly 
separated from Portugal under the regent left behind by the Portuguese 
royal family on its return from Napoleonic exile to Europe. The USA 
recognized the most important of the new states almost immediately; 
the British soon after, taking care to conclude commercial treaties 
with them, the French in effect before the 1820s were out. 

The second wave of revolutionism occurred in 1829-34, and affected 
all Europe west of Russia and the North American continent; for the 
great reforming age of President Andrew Jackson (1829-37), though 
not directly connected with the European upheavals, must count as 
part of it. In Europe the overthrow of the Bourbons in France stimu¬ 
lated various other risings. Belgium (1830) won independence from 
Holland, Poland (1830-1) was suppressed only after considerable 
military operations, various parts of Italy and Germany were agitated, 
liberalism prevailed in Switzerland—a much less pacific country 
then than now—while a period of civil war between liberals and cleri¬ 
cals opened in Spain and Portugal. Even Britain was affected, thanks 
in part to the threatened eruption of its local volcano, Ireland, which 
secured Catholic Emancipation (1829) and the re-opening of the 
reform agitation. The Reform Act of 1832 corresponds to the July 
Revolution of 1830 in France, and had indeed been powerfully stimu¬ 
lated by the news from Paris. This period is probably the only one in 
modern history when political events in Britain ran parallel with those 
on the continent, to the point where something not unlike a revolu- 



tionary situation might have developed in 1831-2 but for the restraint 
of both Whig and Tory parties. It is the only period in the nineteenth 
century when the analysis of British politics in such terms is not wholly 

The revolutionary wave of 1830 was therefore a much more serious 
affair than that of 1820. In effect, it marks the definitive defeat of 
aristocratic by bourgeois power in Western Europe. The ruling class 
of the next fifty years was to be the ‘grande bourgeoisie’ of bankers; big 
industrialists and sometimes top civil servants, accepted by an aris¬ 
tocracy which effaced itself or agreed to promote primarily bourgeois 
policies, unchallenged as yet by universal suffrage, though harassed 
from outside by the agitations of the lesser or unsatisfied businessmen, 
the petty-bourgeoisie and the early labour movements. Its political 
system, in Britain, France and Belgium, was fundamentally the same: 
liberal institutions safeguarded against democracy by property or edu¬ 
cational qualifications for the voters—there were, initially, only 
168,000 of them in France—under a constitutional monarch; in fact, 
something very like the institutions of the first and most moderately 
bourgeois phase of the French Revolution, the constitution of 1791.* 
In the USA, however, Jacksonian democracy marks a step beyond this: 
the defeat of the non-democratic propertied oligarchs whose role corres¬ 
ponded to what was now triumphing in Western Europe, by the 
unlimited political democracy swept into power with the votes of the 
frontiersmen, the small farmers, the urban poor. It was a portentous 
innovation, and those thinkers of moderate liberalism, realistic enough 
to know that extensions of the franchise would probably be inevitable 
sooner or later, scrutinized it closely and anxiously; notably Alexis de 
Toqueville, whose Democracy in America (1835) came to gloomy con¬ 
clusions about it. But as we shall see, 1830 marks an even more 
radical innovation in politics: the emergence of the working-class 
as an independent and self-conscious force in politics in Britain 
and France, and of nationalist movements in a great many European 

Behind these major changes in politics lay major changes in economic 
and social development. Whichever aspect of social life we survey, 
1830 marks a turning-point in it; of all the dates between 1789 and 
1848 it is the most obviously memorable. In the history of industrializa¬ 
tion and urbanization on the continent and in the USA, in the history 
of human migrations, social and geographical, in that of the arts and 
of ideology, it appears with equal prominence. And in Britain and 
Western Europe in general it dates the beginning of those decades of 

* Only in practice with a much more restricted franchise than in 1791. 



crisis in the development of the new society which conclude with the 
defeat of the 1848 revolutions and the gigantic economic leap forward 
after 1851. 

The third and biggest of the revolutionary waves, that of 1848, was 
the product of this crisis. Almost simultaneously revolution broke out 
and (temporarily) won in France, the whole of Italy, the German 
states, most of the Habsburg Empire and Switzerland (1847). In a less 
acute form the unrest also affected Spain, Denmark and Rumania, in 
a sporadic form Ireland, Greece and Britain. There has never been 
anything closer to the world-revolution of which the insurrectionaries of 
the period dreamed than this spontaneous and general conflagration, 
which concludes the era discussed in this volume. What had been in 
1789 the rising of a single nation was now, it seemed, ‘the springtime 
of peoples’ of an entire continent. 


Unlike the revolutions of the late eighteenth century, those of the post- 
Napoleonic period were intended or even planned. For the most 
formidable legacy of the French Revolution itself was the set of models 
and patterns of political upheaval which it established for the general 
use of rebels anywhere. This is not to say that the revolutions of 1815-48 
were the mere work of a few disaffected agitators, as the spies and 
policemen of the period—a very fully employed species—purported to 
tell their superiors. They occurred because the political systems reim¬ 
posed on Europe were profoundly, and in a period of rapid social 
change increasingly inadequate for the political conditions of the 
continent, and because economic and social discontents were so acute 
as to make a series of outbreaks virtually inevitable. Bilt the political 
models created by the Revolution of 1789 served to give discontent 
a specific object, to turn unrest into revolution, and above all to link 
all Europe in a single movement—or perhaps it would be better to say 
current—of subversion. 

There were several such models, though all stemmed from the 
experience of France between 1789 and 1797. They corresponded to 
the three main trends of post-1815 opposition: the moderate liberal 
(or, in social terms, that of the upper middle classes and liberal aris¬ 
tocracy), the radical-democratic (or, in social terms, that of the lower 
middle class, part of the new manufacturers, the intellectuals and the 
discontented gentry) and the socialist (or, in social terms, the ‘labouring 
poor’ or the new industrial working classes). Etymologically, by the 



way, all of them reflect the internationalism of the period: ‘liberal’ is 
Franco-Spanish in origin, ‘radical’ British, ‘socialist’ Anglo-French. 
‘Conservative’ is also partly French in origin; another proof of the 
uniquely close correlation of British and continental politics in the 
Reform Bill period. The inspiration of the first was the Revolution of 
1789-91, its political ideal the sort of quasi-British constitutional 
monarchy with a property-qualified, and therefore oligarchic, parlia¬ 
mentary system which the Constitution of 1791 introduced, and which, 
as we have seen, became the standard type of constitution in France, 
Britain and Belgium after 1830-32. The inspiration of the second could 
best be described as the Revolution of 1792-3, and its political ideal, 
a democratic republic with a bias towards a ‘welfare state’ and some 
animus against the rich, corresponds to the ideal Jacobin constitution 
of 1793. But just as the social groups which stood for radical democracy 
were a confused and oddly assorted collection, so also it is hard to 
attach a precise label to its. French Revolutionary model. Elements of 
what would in 1792-3 have been called Girondism, Jacobinism and 
even Sansculottism were combined in it, though perhaps the Jacobinism 
of the constitution of 1793 represented it best. The inspiration of the 
third was the Revolution of the Year II and the post-Thermidorian 
risings, above all BabeuFs Conspiracy of the Equals, that significant 
rising of extreme Jacobins and early communists which marks the 
birth of the modern communist tradition in politics. It was the child of 
Sansculottism and the left wing of Robespierrism, though deriving little 
but its strong hatred of the middle classes and the rich from the former. 
Politically the Babouvist revolutionary model was in the tradition of 
Robespierre and Saint-Just. 

From the point of view of the absolutist governments all these 
movements were equally subversive of stability and good order, though 
some seemed more consciously devoted to the propagation of chaos 
than others, and some more dangerous than others, because more 
likely to inflame the ignorant and impoverished masses. (Metternich’s 
secret police in the 1830s therefore paid what seems to us a dispro¬ 
portionate amount of attention to the circulation of Lamennais’ 
Paroles d’un Croyant (1834), for, in speaking the Catholic language of the 
unpolitical, it might appeal to subjects unaffected by frankly atheistic 
propaganda.) 3 In fact, however, the opposition movements were united 
by little more than their common detestation of the regimes of 1815 
and the traditional common front of all opposed, for whatever 
reason, to absolute monarchy, church and aristocracy. The history 
of the period from 1815-48 is that of the disintegration of that united 



During the Restoration period (1815-30) the blanket of reaction covered 
all who dissented equally, and in the darkness under it the differences 
between Bonapartists and Republicans, moderates and radicals, could 
hardly be seen. There were as yet no self-conscious working-class 
revolutionaries or socialists, at any rate in politics, except in Britain, 
where an independent proletarian trend in politics and ideology 
emerged under the aegis of Owenite ‘co-operation’ towards 1830. Most 
non-British mass discontent was as yet non-political, or ostensibly 
legitimist and clerical, a dumb protest against the new society which 
appeared to bring nothing but evil and chaos. With few exceptions, 
therefore, political opposition on the continent was confined to tiny 
groups of the rich or the educated, which still meant very much the 
same thing, for even in so powerful a stronghold of the left as the 
Ecole Polytechnique only one-third of the students—a notably subversive 
group—came from the' petty-bourgeoisie (mostly via the lower Eche¬ 
lons of the army and civil service) and only 0-3 per cent from the 
‘popular classes’. Such of the poor as were consciously on the left 
accepted the classical slogans of middle class revolution, though in 
the radical-democratic rather than the moderate version, but as yet 
without much more than a certain overtone of social challenge. The 
classical programme around which the British labouring poor rallied 
time and again was one of simple parliamentary reform as expressed in 
the ‘Six Points’ of the People’s Charter.* In substance this programme 
was no different from the ‘Jacobinism’ of Paine’s generation, and 
entirely compatible (but for its association with an increasingly self- 
conscious working class) with the political radicalism of the Benthamite 
middle class reformers, as put forward say by James Mill. The only 
difference in the Restoration period was that the labouring radicals 
already preferred to hear it preached by men who spoke to them in 
their own terms—rhetorical windbags like Orator Hunt (1773-1835), 
or brilliant and energetic stylists like William Cobbett (1762-1835) 
and, of course, Tom Paine (1737-1809)—rather than by the middle 
class reformers themselves. 

Consequently in this period neither social nor even national dis¬ 
tinctions as yet significantly divided the European opposition into 
mutually incomprehensible camps. If we omit Britain and the USA, 
where a regular form of mass politics was already established (though 

* (1) Manhood Suffrage, (2) Vote by Ballot, (3) Equal Electoral Districts, (4) Paymeni 
of Members of Parliament, (5) Annual Parliaments, (G) Abolition of property qualification 
for candidates. 


in Britain it was inhibited by anti-Jacobin hysteria until the early 
1820s), the political prospects looked very much alike to oppositionists 
in all European countries, and the methods of achieving revolution— 
the united front of absolutism virtually excluded peaceful reform over 
most of Europe—were very much the same. All revolutionaries regarded 
themselves, with some justification, as small Elites of the emanci¬ 
pated and progressive operating among, and for the eventual benefit of, 
a vast and inert mass of the ignorant and misled common people, 
which would no doubt welcome liberation when it came, but could 
not be expected to take much part in preparing it. All of them (at any 
rate west of the Balkans) saw themselves fighting against a single 
enemy, the union of absolutist princes under the leadership of the Tsar. 
All of them therefore conceived of revolution as unified and indivisible; 
a single European phenomenon rather than an aggregate of national 
or local liberations. All of them tended to adopt the same type of 
revolutionary organization, .or even the same organization: the secret 
insurrectionary brotherhood. 

Such brotherhoods, each with a highly-coloured ritual and hierarchy 
derived or copied from masonic models, sprang up towards the end of 
the Napoleonic period. The best-known, because the most international, 
were the ‘good cousins’ or Carbonari. They appear to descend from 
masonic or similar lodges in Eastern France viaanti-Bonapartist French 
officers in Italy, took shape in Southern Italy after 1806 and, with other 
similar groups, spread north and across the Mediterranean world after 
1815. They, or their derivatives or parallels, are found as far afield as 
Russia, where such bodies bound together the Decembrists, who made 
the first insurrection of modern Russian history in 1825, but especially 
in Greece. The carbonarist era reached its climax in 1820-1, most of 
the brotherhoods being virtually destroyed by 1823. However, car- 
bonarism (in the generic sense) persisted as the main stem of revolu¬ 
tionary organization, perhaps held together by the congenial task of 
assisting Greek freedom (philhellenism), and after the failure of the 
1830 revolutions the political emigrants from Poland and Italy spread 
it still further afield. 

Ideologically the Carbonari and their like were a mixed lot, united 
only by a common detestation of reaction. For obvious reasons the 
radicals, among them the left wing Jacobins and Babouvists, being the 
most determined of revolutionaries, increasingly influenced the 
brotherhoods. Filippo Buonarroti, Babeuf’s old comrade in arms, was 
their ablest and most indefatigable conspirator, though his doctrines 
were probably very much to the left of most brethren or cousins. 

Whether their efforts were ever co-ordinated to produce simul- 


taneous international revolution is still a matter for debate, though 
persistent attempts to link all secret brotherhoods, at least at their 
highest and most initiated levels, into international super-conspiracies 
were made. Whatever the truth of the matter, a crop of insurrections 
of the Carbonarist type occurred in 1820-1. They failed utterly in 
France, where the political conditions for revolution were quite absent 
and the conspirators had no access to the only effective levers of insur¬ 
rection in a situation not otherwise ripe for it, a disaffected army. The 
French army, then and throughout the nineteenth century, was a part 
of the civil service, that is to say it carried out the orders of whatever 
government was the official one. They succeeded completely, but 
temporarily in some Italian states and especially in Spain, where the 
‘pure’ insurrection discovered its most effective formula, the military 
pronunciamento. Liberal colonels organized in their own secret officers’ 
brotherhoods ordered their regiments to follow them into insurrection, 
and they did so. (The Decembrist conspirators in Russia tried to do the 
same with their guards regiments in 1825 but failed owing to fear of 
going too far.) The officers’ brotherhood—often of a liberal tendency, 
since the new armies provided careers for non-aristocratic young men 
—and the pronunciamento henceforth became regular features of the 
Iberian and Latin American political scenes, and one of the most 
lasting and doubtful political acquisitions of the Carbonarist period. 
It may be observed in passing that the ritualized and hierarchical 
secret society, like Freemasonry, appealed very strongly to military 
men, for understandable reasons. The new Spanish liberal regime was 
overthrown by a French invasion backed by European reaction in 

Only one of the 1820-2 revolutions maintained itself, thanks partly 
to its success in launching a genuine people’s insurrection and partly to 
a favourable diplomatic situation: the Greek rising of 1821.* Greece 
therefore became the inspiration of international liberalism, and 
‘philhellenism’, which included organized support for the Greeks and 
the departure of numerous volunteer fighters, played an analogous 
part in rallying the European left wing in the 1820s as the support 
for the Spanish Republic was- to play in the later 1930s. 

The revolutions of 1830 changed the situation entirely. As we have 
seen they were the first products of a very general period of acute and 
widespread economic and social unrest and rapidly quickening social 
change. Two chief results followed from this. The first was that mass 
politics and mass revolution on the 1789 model once again became 
possible and the exclusive reliance on secret brotherhoods therefore less 

* For Greece see also chapter 7. 



necessary. The Bourbons were overthrown in Paris by a characteristic 
combination of crisis in what passed for the politics of the Restoration 
monarchy, and popular unrest induced by economic depression. So 
far from mass inactivity, the Paris of July 1830 showed the barricades 
springing up in greater number and in more places than ever before or 
after. (In fact 1830 made the barricade into the symbol of popular 
insurrection. Though its revolutionary history in Paris goes back to at 
least 1588, it played no important part in 1789-94.) The second result 
was that, with the progress of capitalism, ‘the people’ and ‘the labour¬ 
ing poor’—i.e. the men who built barricades—could be increasingly 
identified with the new industrial proletariat as ‘the working class’. 
A proletarian-socialist revolutionary movement therefore came into 

The 1830 revolutions also introduced two further modifications of 
left wing politics. They split moderates from radicals and they created 
a new international situation. In doing so they helped to split the 
movement not only into different social but into different national 

Internationally, the revolutions split Europe into two major regions. 
West of the Rhine they broke the hold of the united reactionary powers 
for good. Moderate liberalism triumphed in France, Britain and 
Belgium. Liberalism (of a more radical type) did not entirely triumph 
in Switzerland and the Iberian Peninsula, where popularly based 
liberal and anti-liberal catholic movements confronted each other, but 
the Holy Alliance could no longer intervene in these regions, as it still 
did everywhere east of the Rhine. In the Portuguese and Spanish civil 
wars of the 1830s the absolutist and moderate liberal powers each 
backed their side, though the liberal ones slightly more energetically, 
and with the assistance of some foreign radical volunteers and sym¬ 
pathizers, which faintly foreshadowed the philo-hispanism of the 
1930s.* But at bottom the issue in these countries was left to be decided 
by the local balance of forces. That is to say it remained undecided, 
fluctuating between short periods of liberal victory (1833-7, 1 840-3) 
and conservative recovery. 

East of the Rhine the situation remained superficially as before 
1830, for all the revolutions were suppressed, the German and Italian 
risings by or with the support of the Austrians, the Polish rising, much 
the most serious, by the Russians. Moreover, in this region the national 
problem continued to take precedence over all others. All peoples 

* Englishmen had been interested in Spain by the liberal Spanish refugees with whom 
they came into contact in the 1820s. British anti-catholicism also played a certain part in 
turning the striking vogue for Spain—immortalized in George Borrow’s Bible in Spain and 
Murray’s famous Handbook of Spain —into an anti-Carlist direction. 



lived under states which were either too small or too large by national 
criteria - , as members of disunited nations split into small principalities 
or none (Germany, Italy, Poland), as members of multi-national 
empires (the Habsburg, the Russian and the Turkish), or in both 
capacities. We need not trouble about the Dutch and Scandinavians 
who, though belonging broadly to the non-absolutist zone, lived a 
relatively tranquil life outside the dramatic events of the rest of Europe. 

A great deal remained in common between the revolutionaries of 
both regions, as witness the fact that the 1848 revolutions occurred in 
both, though not in all sections of both. However within each a marked 
difference in revolutionary ardour emerged. In the west Britain and 
Belgium ceased to follow the general revolutionary rhythm, while 
Spain, Portugal, and to a lesser extent Switzerland, were now involved 
in their endemic civil struggles, whose crises no longer coincided with 
those elsewhere except by accident (as in the Swiss civil war of 1847). 
In the rest of Europe a sharp difference between the actively ‘revolu¬ 
tionary’ nations and the' passive or unenthusiastic ones emerged. Thus 
the secret services of the Habsburgs were constantly troubled by the 
problem of the Poles, the Italians and the (non-Austrian) Germans, 
as well as by the perennially obstreperous Hungarians, while reporting 
no dangers from the alpine lands or the other Slav ones. The Russians 
had as yet only the Poles to worry about, while the Turks could still 
rely on most of the Balkan Slavs to remain tranquil. 

These differences reflected the variations in the tempo of evolution 
and in the social conditions in different countries which became 
increasingly evident in the 1830s and 1840s, and increasingly important 
for politics. Thus the advanced industrialization of Britain changed 
the rhythm of British politics - , while most of the continent had its 
most acute period of social crises in 1846-8, Britain had its equivalent, 
a purely industrial depression, in 1841-2. (See also chapter 9.) Con¬ 
versely, while in the 1820s groups of young idealists might plausibly 
hope that a military putsch could ensure the victory of freedom in Russia 
as in Spain or France, after 1830 the fact that the social and political 
conditions in Russia were far less ripe for revolution than in Spain could 
hardly be overlooked. 

Nevertheless the problems of revolution were comparable in East 
and West, though not of the same kind: they led to increased tension 
between the moderates and the radicals. In the west the moderate 
liberals moved out of the common Restoration front of opposition (or 
out of close sympathy with it) into the world of government or potential 
government. Moreover, having gained power by the efforts of the 
radicals—for who else fought on the barricades?—they iminediately 



betrayed them. There was to be no truck with anything as dangerous 
as democracy or the republic. ‘There is no longer legitimate cause,’ said 
Guizot, opposition liberal under the Restoration, Prime Minister under 
the July Monarchy, ‘nor specious pretext for the maxims and the 
passions so long placed under the banner of democracy. What was 
formerly democracy, would now be anarchy; the democratic spirit is 
now and long will be nothing but the revolutionary spirit.’ 4 

More than this: after a short interval of toleration and zeal, the 
liberals tended to moderate their enthusiasm for further reform and 
to suppress the radical left, and especially the working-class revolu¬ 
tionaries. In Britain the Owenite ‘General Union’ of 1834-5 an d the 
Chartists faced the hostility both of the men who had opposed the 
Reform Act and of many who had advocated it. The commander of 
the armed forces deployed against the Chartists in 1839 sympathized 
with many of their demands as a middle class radical, but he held 
them in check nevertheless. In France the suppression of the republican 
rising of 1834 marked the turning-point; in the same year the terror¬ 
ization of six honest Wesleyan labourers who had tried to form an 
agricultural workers union (the ‘Tolpuddle Martyrs’) marked the 
equivalent offensive against the working class movement in Britain. 
Radicals, republicans and the new proletarian movements therefore 
moved out of alignment with the liberals; the moderates, when still in 
opposition, were haunted by the ‘democratic and social republic’ which 
now became the slogan of the left. 

In the rest of Europe no revolutions had won. The split between 
moderates and radicals and the emergence of the new social-revolu¬ 
tionary trend arose out of the inquest on defeat and the analysis of the 
prospects of victory. The moderates—whiggish landowners and such 
of the middle class as existed—placed their hopes in reform by suitably 
impressionable governments and in the diplomatic support of the new 
liberal powers. Suitably impressionable governments were rare. Savoy 
in Italy remained sympathetic to liberalism and increasingly attracted 
a body of moderate support which looked toward it for help in the 
country’s eventual unification. A group of liberal catholics, encouraged 
by the curious and short-lived phenomenon of a ‘liberal papacy’ under 
the new Pope Pius IX (1846), dreamed, quite fruitlessly, of mobilizing 
the force of the Church for the same purpose. In Germany no state of 
importance was other than hostile to liberalism. This did not prevent 
some moderates—fewer than Prussian historical propaganda has sug¬ 
gested—from looking towards Prussia, which had at least a German 
Customs Union (1834) to its credit, and all to dream of suitably con¬ 
verted princes rather than barricades. In Poland, where the prospect of 



moderate reform with the support of the Tsar no longer encouraged 
the magnate faction which had always pinned its hopes to it (the 
Czartoryskis), moderates could at least hope against hope for Western 
diplomatic intervention. None of these prospects were in the least 
realistic, as things stood between 1830 and 1848. 

The radicals were equally disappointed by the failure of the French 
to play the part of international liberators assigned to them by the 
Great Revolution and by revolutionary theory. Indeed, this disap¬ 
pointment, together with the growing nationalism of the 1830s (cf. chap¬ 
ter 7) and the new awareness of the differences in the revolutionary 
prospects of each country, shattered the unified internationalism the 
revolutionaries had aspired to during the Restoration. The strategic 
prospects remained the same. A neo-Jacobin France, and perhaps (as 
Marx thought) a radically interventionist Britain, still remained almost 
indispensable for European liberation, short of the unlikely prospect 
of a Russian revolution. 5 Nevertheless, a nationalist reaction against 
the Franco-centric internationalism of the Carbonarist period gained 
ground, an emotion which fitted well into the new fashion of roman¬ 
ticism (cf. chapter 14) which captured much of the left after 1830: 
there is no sharper contrast than that between the reserved eighteenth- 
century music-master and rationalist Buonarroti and the woolly and 
ineffective self-dramatizer Joseph Mazzini (1805-72) who became the 
apostle of this anti-Carbonarist reaction, forming various national 
conspiracies (‘Young Italy’, ‘Young Germany 5 , ‘Young Poland’, etc.) 
linked together as ‘Young Europe’. In one sense this decentralization 
of the revolutionary movement was realistic, for in 1848 the nations 
did indeed rise separately, spontaneously, and simultaneously. In 
another it was not: the stimulus for their simultaneous eruption still 
came from France, and French reluctance to play the role of liberator 
wrecked them. 

Romantic or not, the radicals rejected the moderates’ trust in princes 
and powers for practical as well as ideological reasons. The peoples 
must be prepared to win their liberation themselves for nobody else 
would do it for them; a sentiment also adapted for use by the prole¬ 
tarian-socialist movements at the same time. They must do so by direct 
action. This was still largely conceived in the Carbonarist fashion, at 
all events while the masses remained passive. It was consequently not 
very effective, though there was a world of difference between ridicu¬ 
lous efforts like Mazzini’s attempted invasion of Savoy and the serious 
and continued attempts by the Polish democrats to maintain or revive 
partisan warfare in their country after the defeat of 1831. But the very 
determination of the radicals to take power without or against the 


established forces introduced yet another split in their ranks. Were they 
or were they not prepared to do so at the price of social revolution? 


The question was inflammatory everywhere except in the USA, where 
nobody could any longer take or refrain from the decision to mobilize 
the common people in politics, because Jacksonian democracy had 
already done so.* But, in spite of the appearance of a Workingmen’s 
Party in the USA in 1828-9, social revolution of the European kind was 
not a serious issue in that vast and rapidly expanding country, though 
sectional discontents were. Nor was it inflammatory in Latin America, 
where nobody in politics, except perhaps in Mexico, dreamed of 
mobilizing the Indians (i.e. peasants or rural labourers), the Negro 
slaves, or even the ‘mixed breeds’ (i.e. small farmers, craftsmen and 
urban poor) for any purpose whatever. But in Western Europe where 
social revolution by the urban poor was a real possibility, and in the 
large European zone of agrarian revolution, the question whether or 
not to appeal to the masses was urgent and unavoidable. 

The growing disaffection of the poor—especially the urban poor— 
in Western Europe was visible everywhere. Even in imperial Vienna 
it was reflected in that faithful mirror of plebeian and petty-bourgeois 
attitudes, the popular suburban theatre. In the Napoleonic period its 
plays had combined Gemuetlichkeit with a naive Habsburg loyalty. Its 
greatest writer in the 1820s, Ferdinand Raimund, filled the stage with 
fairy-tales, sadness, and nostalgia for the lost innocence of the simple, 
traditional, uncapitalist community. But from 1835 it was dominated 
by a star (Johann Nestroy) who was primarily a social and political 
satirist, a bitter and dialectical wit, a destroyer who, characteristically, 
became an enthusiastic revolutionary in 1848. Even German emigrants, 
passing through Le Havre, gave as their reason for going to the USA, 
which in the 1830s began to be the poor European’s dream country, 
that ‘there’s no king there’. 6 

Urban discontent was universal in the West. A proletarian and 
socialist movement was chiefly visible in the countries of the dual 
revolution, Britain and France. (Cf. also chapter 11.) In Britain it 
emerged round 1830 and took the extremely mature form of a mass 
movement of the labouring poor which regarded the whigs and 
liberals as its probable betrayers and the capitalists as its certain 
enemies. The vast movement for the People’s Charter, which reached its 
peak in 1839-42 but retained great influence until after 1848, was its 

* Except, of course, for the slaves of the South. 



most formidable achievement. British socialism or ‘co-operation’ was 
very much weaker. It began impressively in 1829-34 by recruiting 
perhaps the bulk of working-class militants to its doctrines (which had 
been propagated, mainly among artisans and skilled workers, since the 
early 1820s), and by ambitious attempts to set up national ‘general 
unions’ of the working class which, under Owenite influence, even 
made attempts to establish a general co-operative economy bypassing 
the capitalist. Disappointment after the Reform Act of 1832 caused the 
bulk of the labour movement to look towards these Owenites, co- 
operators, primitive revolutionary syndicalists, etc., for leadership, but 
their failure to develop an effective political strategy and leadership, 
and systematic offensives by employers and government, destroyed the 
movement in 1834-6. This failure reduced the socialists to propa¬ 
gandist and educational groups standing somewhat outside the main 
stream of labour agitation or to pioneers of the more modest consumer’s 
co-operation, in the form of the co-operative shop, pioneered in Roch¬ 
dale, Lancashire, from 1844. Hence the paradox that the peak of the 
revolutionary mass movement of the British labouring poor, Chartism, 
was ideologically somewhat less advanced, though politically more 
mature, than the movement of 1829-34. But this did not save it from 
defeat through the political incapacity of its leaders, local and sectional 
differences, and an inability for concerted national action other than 
the preparation of monster petitions. 

In France no comparable mass movement of the industrial labouring 
poor existed: the militants of the French ‘working-class movement’ in 
1830-48 were in the main old-fashioned urban craftsmen and journey¬ 
men, mostly in the skilled trades, and centres of traditional domestic 
and putting-out industry such as the Lyons silk trade. (The arch¬ 
revolutionary canuts of Lyons were not even wage-workers but a form 
of small masters.) Moreover, the various brands of the new ‘utopian’ 
socialism—the followers of Saint-Simon, Fourier, Cabet and the rest 
were uninterested in political agitation, though in fact their little 
conventicles and groups—notably the Fourierists—were to act as nuclei 
of working-class leadership and mobilizers of mass action at the outset 
of the 1848 revolution. On the other hand France possessed the powerful 
and politically highly developed tradition of left wing Jacobinism and 
Babouvism, a crucial part of which after 1830 became communist. 
Its most formidable leader was Auguste Blanqui (1805-1881), a pupil 
of Buonarroti. 

In terms of social analysis and theory Blanquism had little to con¬ 
tribute to socialism except the assertion of its necessity, and the decisive 
observation that the proletariat of exploited wage-workers was to be its 


architect and the middle class (no longer the upper) its main enemy. 
In terms of political strategy and organization, it adapted the tradi¬ 
tional organ of revolutionism, the secret conspiratorial brotherhood to 
proletarian conditions—incidentally stripping it of much of its Restora¬ 
tion ritualism and fancy dress—and the traditional method of Jacobin 
revolution, insurrection and centralized popular dictatorship to the 
cause of the workers. From the Blanquists (who in turn derived it from 
Saint-Just, Babeuf and Buonarroti) the modern socialist revolutionary 
movement acquired the conviction that its object must be the seizure 
of political power, followed by the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’; the 
term is of Blanquist coinage. The weakness of Blanquism was in part 
that of the French working class. In the absence of a large mass move¬ 
ment it remained, like its Carbonarist predecessors, an elite which 
planned its insurrections somewhat in the void, and therefore often 
failed—as in the attempted rising of 1839. 

Working class or urban revolution and socialism therefore appeared 
very real dangers in Western Europe, though in fact in the most 
industrialized countries like Britain and Belgium, government and 
employing classes regarded them with relative—and justified—placi¬ 
dity: there is no evidence that the British Government was seriously 
troubled by the threat to public order of the huge, but divided, ill- 
organized, and abysmally led Chartists. 7 On the other hand, the rural 
population offered little to encourage the revolutionaries or frighten 
the rulers. In Britain the government had a moment’s panic when 
a wave of rioting and machine-breaking rapidly propagated itself 
among the starving farm-labourers of Southern and Eastern England 
at the end of 1830. The influence of the French Revolution of July 
1830 was detected in this spontaneous, widespread, but rapidly sub¬ 
siding ‘last labourers’ revolt’, 8 which was punished with far greater 
savagery than the Chartist agitations; as was perhaps to be expected 
in view of the much tenser political situation during the Reform Bill 
period. However, agrarian unrest soon relapsed into politically less 
frightening forms. In the rest of the economically advanced areas, 
except to some extent in Western Germany, no serious agrarian revolu¬ 
tionism was expected or envisaged; and the entirely urban outlook of 
most revolutionaries held little attraction for the peasantry. In all 
Western Europe (leaving aside the Iberian peninsula) only Ireland 
contained a large and endemic movement of agrarian revolution, 
organized in secret and widespread terrorist societies such as the 
Ribbonmen and Whiteboys. But socially and politically Ireland belonged 
to a different world from its neighbour. 

The issue of social revolution therefore split the middle class radicals, 



i.e. those groups of discontented businessmen, intellectuals and others 
who still found themselves in opposition to the moderate liberal 
governments of 1830. In Britain it divided the ‘middle class radicals’ 
into those who were prepared to support Chartism, or to make common 
cause with it (as in Birmingham or in the Quaker Joseph Sturge’s 
Complete Suffrage Union) and those who insisted, like the Manchester 
Anti-Corn-Law Leaguers, in fighting both aristocracy and Chartism. 
The intransigents prevailed, confident in the greater homogeneity of 
their class consciousness, in their money, which they spent in vast 
quantities, and in the effectiveness of the propagandist and advertising 
organization which they set up. In France the weakness of the official 
opposition to Louis Philippe and the initiative of the revolutionary 
Paris masses swung the decision the other way. ‘So we have become 
republicans again,’ wrote the radical poet Beranger after the February 
Revolution of 1848. ‘Perhaps it has been a little too soon and a little 
too fast. ... I should have preferred a more cautious procedure, but 
we have chosen neither the hour, nor marshalled the forces, nor deter¬ 
mined the route of the march.’ 9 The break of the middle class radicals 
with the extreme left here was to occur only after the revolution. 

For the discontented petty-bourgeoisie of independent artisans, shop¬ 
keepers, farmers and the like who (together with a mass of skilled 
workers) probably formed the main corps of Radicalism in Western 
Europe, the problem was less taxing. As little men they sympathized 
with the poor against the rich, as men of small property with the rich 
against the poor. But the division of their sympathies led them into 
hesitation and doubt rather than into a major change of political 
allegiance. When it came to the point they were, however feebly, 
Jacobins, republicans and democrats. A hesitant component of all 
popular fronts, they were nevertheless an invariable component, until 
potential expropriators were actually in power. 


In the rest of revolutionary Europe,- where the discontented lesser 
country gentry and the intellectuals formed the core of radicalism, the 
problem was far more serious. For the masses were the peasantry, 
often a peasantry belonging to a different nation from its landlords and 
townsmen—Slavonic and Rumanian in Hungary, Ukrainian in Eastern 
Poland, Slavonic in parts of Austria. And the poorest and least efficient 
landlords, who could least afford to abandon the status which gave 
them their income, were often the most radically nationalist. Admit¬ 
tedly while the bulk of the peasantry remained sunk in ignorance and 



political passivity, the question of its support for the revolution was 
less immediate than it might have been; but not less burning. And in 
the 1840s even this passivity could no longer be taken for granted. The 
serf rising in Galicia in 1846 was the greatest jacquerie since the days of 
the French Revolution of 1789. 

Burning as the question was, it was also to some extent rhetorical. 
Economically, the modernization of backward areas, such as those of 
Eastern Europe, demanded agrarian reform; or at the very least the 
abolition of serfdom which still persisted in the Austrian, Russian and 
Turkish empires. Politically, once the peasantry reached the threshold 
of activity, nothing was more certain than that something would 
have to be done to meet its demands, at any rate in countries where 
revolutionaries fought against foreign rule. For if they did not attract 
the peasants to their side, the reactionaries would; legitimate kings, 
emperors and churches in any case held the tactical advantage that 
traditionalist peasants trusted them more than lords and were still in 
principle prepared to expect justice from them. And monarchs were 
perfectly prepared to play peasants against gentry, if necessary: the 
Bourbons of Naples had done so without hesitation against the Nea¬ 
politan Jacobins in 1799. ‘Long live Radetzky,’ the Lombard peasants 
were to shout in 1848, cheering the Austrian general who overthrew 
the nationalist rising: ‘death to the lords’. 10 The question before the 
radicals in under-developed countries was not whether to seek alliance 
with the peasantry, but whether they would succeed in obtaining 

The radicals in such countries therefore fell into two groups: the 
democrats and the extreme left. The former (represented in Poland by 
the Polish Democratic Society, in Hungary by Kossuth’s followers, in 
Italy by the Mazzinians) recognized the need to attract the peasantry 
to the revolutionary cause, where necessary by the abolition of serfdom 
and the grant of property rights to Small cultivators, but hoped for 
some sort of peaceful coexistence between a nobility voluntarily 
renouncing its feudal rights—not without compensation—and a 
national peasantry. However, where the wind of peasant rebellion had 
not reached gale force or the fear of its exploitation by princes was not 
great (as in much of Italy) the democrats in practice neglected to 
provide themselves with a concrete agrarian, or indeed with any social 
programme, preferring to preach the generalities of political democracy 
and national liberation. 

The extreme left frankly conceived of the revolutionary struggle as 
one of the masses against both foreign rulers and domestic exploiters. 
Anticipating the national-cum-social revolutionaries of our century, 



they doubted the capacity of the nobility and of the weak middle class, 
with its frequent vested interest in imperial rule, to lead the new nation 
into independence and modernization. Their own programme was 
thus powerfully influenced by the nascent socialism of the west, though, 
unlike most pre-Marxist ‘utopian’ socialists, they were political revolu¬ 
tionaries as well as social critics. The short-lived Republic of Cracow 
in 1846 thus abolished all peasant burdens and promised-its urban poor 
‘national workshops’. The most advanced of the south Italian Carbo¬ 
nari adopted the Babouvist-Blanquist platform. Except perhaps in 
Poland this current of thought was relatively weak, and its influence 
was further diminished by the failure of movements substantially com¬ 
posed of schoolboys, students, declassed intellectuals of gentry or 
plebeian origins and a few idealists to mobilize the peasantry which 
they so earnestly sought to recruit.* 

The radicals of under-developed Europe therefore never effectively 
solved their problem, partly through the reluctance of their supporters 
to make adequate or timely concessions to the peasantry, partly 
through the political immaturity of the peasants. In Italy the revolu¬ 
tions of 1848 were conducted substantially over the heads of an inactive 
rural population, in Poland (where the rising of 1846 had rapidly 
developed into a peasant rebellion against the Polish gentry, encour¬ 
aged by the Austrian government) no revolution took place at all in 
1848, except in Prussian Poznania. Even in the most advanced of 
revolutionary nations, Hungary, the qualifications of a gentry-operated 
land reform was to make it impossible fully to mobilize the peasantry 
for the war of national liberation. And over most of Eastern Europe 
the Slav peasants in imperial soldiers’ uniforms were the effective 
suppressors of German and Magyar revolutionaries. 


Nevertheless, though now divided by differences in local conditions, 
by nationality, and by class, the revolutionary movements of 1830-48 
maintained a good deal in common. In the first place, as we have seen, 
they remained to a great extent minority organizations of middle class 
and intellectual conspirators, often in exile, or confined to the relatively 
small world of the literate. (When revolutions broke out, of course, 
the common people came into its own. Of the 350 dead in the Milan 

* However, in a few areas of small peasant property, tenancy or share-cropping such as 
the Romagna, or parts of South-western Germany, radicalism of the Mazzinian type 
succeeded in establishing a fair degree of mass support in and after 1848. 



insurrection of 1848 only a dozen or so were students, clerks or from 
landowning families. Seventy-four were women and children and the 
rest artisans or workmen.) 11 In the second place, they retained a com¬ 
mon pattern of political procedure, strategic and tactical ideas, etc. 
derived from the experience and heritage of the Revolution of 1789, 
and a strong sense of international unity. 

The first factor is easily explicable. A long-established tradition of 
mass agitation and organization as part of normal (and not immedi¬ 
ately pre- or post-revolutionary) social life hardly existed except in 
the USA and Britain, or perhaps Switzerland, the Netherlands and 
Scandinavia; nor were the conditions for it present outside Britain and 
the USA. For a newspaper to have a weekly circulation of over 60,000 
and a much vaster number of readers, like the Chartist Northern Star in 
April 1839, 12 was altogether unthinkable elsewhere; 5,000 seems to 
have been a more common circulation for newspapers, though semi¬ 
official ones or—from the 1830s—entertainment journals could prob¬ 
ably exceed 20,000 in a country like France. 13 Even in constitutional 
countries like Belgium and France, the legal agitation of the extreme 
left was only intermittently allowed, and its organizations were often 
illegal. Consequently, while a simulacrum of democratic politics 
existed among the restricted classes who formed the pays legal, some of 
which had its repercussions among the unprivileged, the fundamental 
devices of mass politics—public campaigns to put pressure on govern¬ 
ments, mass organizations, petitions, itinerant oratory addressed to the 
common people and the like—were only rarely possible. Outside Britain 
nobody would have seriously thought of achieving universal parliamen¬ 
tary franchise by a mass campaign of signatures and public demonstra¬ 
tions or to abolish an unpopular law by a mass advertising and pressure 
campaign, as Chartism and the Anti-Corn-Law League tried respec¬ 
tively to do. Major constitutional changes mean a break with legality, 
and so a fortiori did major social changes. 

Illegal organizations are naturally smaller than legal ones, and their 
social composition is far from representative. Admittedly the evolution 
of general Carbonarist secret societies into proletarian-revolutionary 
ones, such as the Blanquist, brought about a relative decline in their 
middle class and a rise in their working-class membership, i.e. in the 
number of craftsmen and skilled journeymen. The Blanquist organiza¬ 
tions of the later 1830s and 1840s were said to be strongly lower class. 14 
So was the German League of the Outlaws (which in turn became the 
League of the Just and the Communist League of Marx and Engels), 
whose backbone consisted of expatriate German journeymen. But this 
was a rather exceptional case. The bulk of the conspirators consisted, 



as before, of men from the professional classes or the lesser gentry, 
students and schoolboys, journalists and the like; though perhaps with 
a smaller component (outside the Iberian countries) of young officers 
than in the Carbonarist heyday. 

Moreover, up to a point the entire European and American left 
continued to fight the same enemies, to share common aspirations and 
a common programme. ‘We renounce, repudiate and condemn all 
hereditary inequalities and distinctions of “caste”,’ wrote the Fraternal 
Democrats (composed of ‘natives of Great Britain, France, Germany, 
Scandinavia, Poland, Italy, Switzerland, Hungary and other countries’) 
in their Declaration of Principles, ‘consequently we regard kings, 
aristocracies and classes monopolizing privileges in virtue of their 
possession of property, as usurpers. Governments elected by and 
responsible to the entire people is our political creed.’ 15 What radical 
or revolutionary would have disagreed with them? If bourgeois, he 
would favour a state in which property, while not enjoying political 
privilege as such (as in the constitutions of 1830-2 which made the vote 
dependent on a property qualification), would have economic elbow- 
room; if socialist or communist, that it must be socialized. No doubt 
the point would be reached—in Britain it already had by the time of 
Chartism—when the former allies against king, aristocracy and privi¬ 
lege would turn against each other and the fundamental conflict 
would be that between bourgeois and workers. But before 1848 that 
point had not yet been reached anywhere else. Only the grande bour¬ 
geoisie of a few countries was as yet officially in the government camp. 
Even the most conscious proletarian communists still saw themselves 
and acted as the extreme left wing of the general radical and demo¬ 
cratic movement; and normally regarded the achievement of the 
‘bourgeois-democratic’ republic as the indispensable preliminary for 
the further advance of socialism. Marx and Engels’s Communist Mani¬ 
festo is a declaration of future war against the bourgeoisie but—at least 
for Germany—of present alliance. The most advanced German middle 
class, the Rhineland industrialists, not merely asked Marx to edit their 
radical organ the Neue Rheinische Zeitung in 1848; he accepted and 
edited it not simply as a communist organ, but as the spokesman and 
leader of German radicalism. 

More than a merely common outlook, the European left shared a 
common picture of what the revolution would be like, derived from 
1789 with touches of 1830. There would be a crisis in the political 
affairs of the state, leading to insurrection. (The Carbonarist idea of 
an £lite putsch or rising organized without reference to the general 
political or economic climate was increasingly discredited, except in 



Iberian countries, notably by the abject failure of various attempts of 
the kind in'Italy—e.g. in 1833-4, *841-5—and of putsches such as that 
attempted by Napoleon’s nephew Louis Napoleon in 1836.) Barricades 
would go up in the capital; the revolutionaries would make for the 
palace, parliament or (among extremists who recalled 1792) the city 
hall, hoist whichever tricolour was theirs and proclaim the republic 
and a Provisional Government. The country would then accept the 
new regime. The decisive importance of the capitals was universally 
accepted, though it was not until after 1848 that governments began 
to replan them in order to facilitate the operation of troops against 

A National Guard of armed citizens would be organized, democratic 
elections for a Constitutent Assembly would be held, the provisional 
government would become a definitive government and the new 
Constitution would come into force. The new regime would then give 
brotherly aid to the other revolutions which, almost certainly, would 
have also occurred. What happened thereafter belonged to the post¬ 
revolutionary era, for which the events of France in 1792-9 also pro¬ 
vided fairly concrete models of what to do and what to avoid. The 
minds of the most Jacobin among the revolutionaries would naturally 
turn readily to the problems of safeguarding the revolution against 
overthrow by foreign or domestic counter-revolutionaries. On the 
whole it can also be said that the more left wing the politician, the more 
he was likely to favour the (Jacobin) principle of centralization and a 
strong executive against the (Girondin) principles of federalism, decen¬ 
tralization or the division of powers. 

This common outlook was strongly reinforced by the strong tradition 
of internationalism, which survived even among those separatist 
nationalists who refused to accept the automatic leadership of any 
country—i.e. of France, or rather Paris. The cause of all nations was 
the same, even without considering the obvious fact that the liberation 
of most European ones appeared to imply the defeat of Tsarism. 
National prejudices (which had, as the Fraternal Democrats held, 
‘been, in all ages, taken advantage of by the people’s oppressors’) 
would disappear in the world of fraternity. Attempts to set up inter¬ 
national revolutionary bodies never ceased, from Mazzini’s Young 
Europe —designed as a counter to the old Carbonarist-masonic inter¬ 
nationals—to the Democratic Association for the Unification of All Countries 
of 1847. Among the nationalist movements such internationalism 
tended to decline in importance, as countries won their independence 
and the relations between peoples proved to be less fraternal than 
had been supposed. Among the social-revolutionary ones, increasingly 



accepting the proletarian orientation, it grew in strength. The Inter¬ 
national, as an organization and as a song, was to become an integral 
part of socialist movements later in the century. 

One accidental factor which reinforced the internationalism of 
1830-48 was exile. Most political militants of the continental left were 
expatriates for some time, many for decades, congregating in the 
relatively few zones of refuge or asylum: France, Switzerland, to a 
lesser extent Britain and Belgium. (The Americas were too far for 
temporary political emigration, though they attracted some.) The 
largest contingent of such exiles was that of the great Polish emigration 
of between five and six thousand, 18 driven from their country by the 
defeat of 1831, the next largest the Italian and German (both reinforced 
by the important non-political emigre or locally settled communities 
of their nationalities in other countries). By the 1840s a small colony 
of Russian intellectuals of wealth had also absorbed Western revolu¬ 
tionary ideas on study tours abroad or sought an atmosphere more 
congenial than that of Nicholas I’s combination of the dungeon and the 
drill-square. Students and wealthy residents from small or backward 
countries were also to be found in the two cities which formed the 
cultural suns of Eastern Europe, Latin America and the Levant: Paris 
and, a long way after, Vienna. 

In the centres of refuge the emigres organized, argued, quarrelled, 
frequented and denounced one another, and planned the liberation of 
their countries, or in the meantime that of other countries. The Poles 
and to a lesser extent the Italians (Garibaldi in exile fought for the 
liberty of various Latin American countries) became in effect interna¬ 
tional corps of revolutionary militants. No rising or war of liberation 
anywhere in Europe between 1831 and 1871 was to be complete with¬ 
out its contingent of Polish military experts or fighters; not even (it has 
been held) the only armed rising in Britain during the Chartist period, 
in 1839. However, they were not the only ones. A fairly typical 
expatriate liberator of peoples, Harro Harring of (as he claimed) 
Denmark, successively fought for Greece (in 1821), for Poland (in 
1830-1), as member of Mazzini’s Young Germany, Young Italy and the 
somewhat more shadowy Young Scandinavia, across the oceans in the 
struggle for a projected United States of Latin America and in New 
York, before returning for the 1848 Revolution; meanwhile publishing 
works with such titles as ‘The Peoples’, ‘Drops of Blood’, ‘Words of 
a Man’ and ‘Poetry of a Scandinavian’.* 

♦He was unlucky enough to attract the hostility of Marx, who spared some of his formid¬ 
able gifts of satirical invective to preserve him for posterity in his Die Grossen Maenner des 
Exits (Marx-Engels Werke, Berlin i960, vol. 8, 292-8). 



A common fate and a common ideal bound these expatriates and 
travellers together. Most of them faced the same problems of poverty 
and police surveillance, of illegal correspondence, espionage and the 
ubiquitous agent-provocateur. Like fascism in the 1930s, absolutism 
in the 1830s and 1840s bound its common enemies together. Then as 
a century later communism, which purported to explain and provide 
solutions for the social crisis of the world, attracted the militant and the 
mere intellectually curious to its capital—Paris—thus adding a serious 
attraction to the lighter charms of the city. (‘If it were not for the French 
women, life would not be worth living. Mats tant qu’ily a des grisettes, 
va !’) 11 In these centres of refuge the emigres formed that provisional, 
but so often permanent community of exile while they planned the 
liberation of mankind. They did not always like or approve of each 
other, but they knew each other, and that their fate was the same. 
Together they prepared for and awaited the European revolution 
which came—and failed—in 1848. 



Every people has its special mission, which will co-operate towards the fulfilment 
of the general mission of humanity. That mission constitutes its nationality. Nation¬ 
ality is sacred. 

Act of Brotherhood of Young Europe, 1834 
The day will come . .. when sublime Germania shall stand on the bronze pedestal 
of liberty and justice, bearing in one hand the torch of enlightenment, which shall throw 
the beam of civilization into the remotest corners of the earth, and in the other the 
arbiter's balance. The people will beg her to settle their disputes; those very people who 
now show us that might is right, and kick us with the jackboot of scornful contempt. 

From Siebenpfeiffer’s speech at the Hambach Festival, 1832 


After 1830, as we have seen, the general movement in favour of 
revolution split. One product of this split deserves special attention: 
the self-consciously nationalist movements. 

The movements which best symbolize this development are the 
‘Youth’ movements founded or inspired by Giuseppe Mazzini shortly 
after the 1830 revolution: Young Italy, Young Poland, Young Switzer¬ 
land, Young Germany and Young France (1831—6) and the analogous 
Young Ireland of the 1840s, the ancestor of the only lasting and 
successful revolutionary organization On the model of the early nine¬ 
teenth century conspiratory brotherhoods, the Fenians or Irish Repub¬ 
lican Brotherhood, better known through its executive arm of the Irish 
Republican Army. In themselves these movements were of no great 
importance; the mere presence of Mazzini would have been enough 
to ensure their total ineffectiveness. Symbolically they are of extreme 
importance, as is indicated by the adoption in subsequent nationalist 
movements of such labels as ‘Young Czechs’ or ‘Young Turks’. They 
mark the distintegration of the European revolutionary movement into 
national segments. Doubtless each of these segments had much the saihe 
political programme, strategy and tactics as the others, and even much 
the same flag—almost invariably a tricolour of some kind. Its members 
saw no contradiction between their own demands and those of other 
nations, and indeed envisaged a brotherhood of all, simultaneously 
liberating themselves. On the other hand each now tended to justify 

• 32 


its primary concern with its own nation by adopting the role of a 
Messiah for all. Through Italy (according to Mazzini), through Poland 
(according to Mickiewicz) the suffering peoples of the world were to be 
led to freedom; an attitude readily adaptable to conservative or indeed 
imperialist policies, as witness the Russian Slavophils with their cham¬ 
pionship of Holy Russia, the Third Rome, and the Germans who were 
subsequently to tell the world at some length that it would be healed 
by the German spirit. Admittedly this ambiguity of nationalism went 
back to the French Revolution. But in those days there had been only 
one great and revolutionary nation and it made sense (as indeed it still 
did) to regard it as the headquarters of all revolutions, and the neces¬ 
sary prime mover in the liberation of the world. To look to Paris was 
rational; to look to a vague ‘Italy’, ‘Poland’ or ‘Germany’ (represented 
in practice by a handful of conspirators and emigres) made sense only 
for Italians, Poles and Germans. 

If the new nationalism had been confined only to the membership 
of the national-revolutionary brotherhoods, it would not be worth 
much more attention. However, it also reflected much more powerful 
forces, which were emerging into political consciousness in the 1830s 
as the result of the double revolution. The most immediately powerful 
of these were the discontent of the lesser landowners or gentry and the 
emergence of a national middle and even lower middle class in num¬ 
erous countries; the spokesmen for both being largely professional 

The revolutionary role of the lesser gentry is perhaps best illustrated 
in Poland and Hungary. There, on the whole, the large landed mag¬ 
nates had long found it possible and desirable to make terms with 
absolutism and foreign rule. The Hungarian magnates were in general 
Catholic and had long been accepted as pillars of Viennese court 
society; very few of them were to join the revolution of 1848. The 
memory of the old Rzeczpospolita made even Polish magnates nationally 
minded; but the most influential of their quasi-national parties, the 
Czartoryski connection, now operating from the luxurious emigration 
of the Hotel Lambert in Paris, had always favoured the alliance with 
Russia and continued to prefer diplomacy to revolt. Economically they 
were wealthy enough to afford what they needed, short of really titanic 
dissipation, and even to invest enough in the improvement of their 
estates to benefit from the economic expansion of the age, if they chose 
to. Count Szechenyi, one of the few moderate liberals from this class 
and a champion of economic improvement, gave a year’s income for 
the new Hungarian Academy of Sciences—some 60,000 florins. There 
is no evidence that his standard of life suffered from such disinterested 



generosity. On the other hand the numerous gentlemen who had 
little but their birth to distinguish them from other impoverished far¬ 
mers—one in eight of the Hungarian population claimed gentlemanly 
status—had neither the money to make their holdings profitable nor 
the inclination to compete with Germans and Jews for middle class 
wealth. If they could not live decently on their rents, and a degenerate 
age deprived them of a soldier’s chances, then they might, if not too 
ignorant, consider the law, administration or some intellectual position; 
but no bourgeois activity. Such gentlemen had long been the stronghold 
of opposition to absolutism, foreigners and magnate rule in their 
respective countries, sheltering (as in Hungary) behind the dual but¬ 
tress of Calvinism and county organization. It was natural that their 
opposition, discontent, and aspiration for more jobs for local gentlemen 
should now fuse with nationalism. 

The national business classes which emerged in this period were, 
paradoxically, a rather less nationalist element. Admittedly in dis¬ 
united Germany and Italy the advantages of a large unified national 
market made sense. The author of Deutschland fiber Alles apostrophized 

Ham and scissors, boots and garters, 

Wool and soap and yarn and beer, 1 

because they had achieved, what the spirit of nationality had been 
unable to, a genuine sense of national unity through customs union. 
However there is little evidence that, say, the shippers of Genoa (who 
were later to provide much of the financial backing for Garibaldi) 
preferred the possibilities of a national Italian market to the larger 
prosperity of trading all over the Mediterranean. And in the large 
multinational empires the industrial or trading nuclei which grew up in 
particular provinces might grumble about discrimination, but at 
bottom clearly preferred the great markets open to them now to the 
little ones of future national independence. The Polish industrialists, 
with all Russia at their feet, took little part as yet in Polish nationalism. 
When Palacky claimed on behalf of the Czechs that ‘if Austria did not 
exist, it would have to be invented’, he was not merely calling on the 
monarchy’s support against the Germans, but also expressing the 
sound economic reasoning of the economically most advanced sector of 
a large and otherwise backward empire. Business interests were some¬ 
times at the head of nationalism, as in Belgium, where a strong pioneer 
industrial community regarded itself, with doubtful reason, as disadvan¬ 
taged under the rule of the powerful Dutch merchant community, to 
which it had been hitched in 1815. But this was an exceptional case. 

1 34 


The great proponents of middle class nationalism at this stage were 
the lower and middle professional, administrative and intellectual 
strata, in other words the educated classes. (These are not, of course, 
distinct from the business classes, especially in backward countries 
where estate administrators, notaries, lawyers and the like are among 
the key accumulators of rural wealth.) To be precise, the advance 
guard of middle class nationalism fought its battle along the line which 
marked the educational progress of large numbers of ‘new men’ into 
areas hitherto occupied by a small elite. The progress of schools and 
universities measures that of nationalism, just as schools and especially 
universities became its most conscious champions: the conflict of 
Germany and Denmark over Schleswig-Holstein in 1848 and again in 
1864 was anticipated by the conflict of the universities of Kiel and 
Copenhagen on this issue in the middle 1840s. 

That progress was striking, though the total number of the ‘educated’ 
remained small. The number of pupils in the French state lycies doubled 
between 1809 and 1842, and increased with particular rapidity under 
the July monarchy, but even so in 1842 it was only just under 19,000. 
(The total of all children receiving secondary education 2 then was 
about 70,000.) Russia, around 1850, had some 20,000 secondary pupils 
out of a total population of sixty-eight millions. 3 The number of uni¬ 
versity students was naturally even smaller, though it was rising. It is 
difficult to realize that the Prussian academic youth which was so 
stirred by the idea of liberation after 1806 consisted in 1805 of not 
much more than 1,500 young men all told; that the Poly technique, the 
bane of the post-1815 Bourbons, trained a total of 1,581 young men in 
the entire period from 1815 to 1830, i.e. an annual intake of about one 
hundred. The revolutionary prominence of the students in the 1848 
period makes us forget that in the whole continent of Europe, including 
the unrevolutionary British Isles, there were probably not more than 
40,000 university students in all. 4 Still their numbers rose. In Russia it 
rose from 1,700 in 1825 to 4,600 in 1848. And even if they did not, the 
transformation of society and the universities (cf. chapter 15) gave 
them a new consciousness of themselves as a social group. Nobody 
remembers that in 1789 there were something like 6,000 students in the 
University of Paris, because they played no independent part in the 
Revolution. 6 But by 1830 nobody could possibly overlook such a number 
of young academics. 

Small Elites can operate in foreign languages; once the cadre of the 
educated becomes large enough, the national language imposes itself 
(as witness the struggle for linguistic recognition in the Indian states 
since the 1940s). Hence the moment when textbooks or newspapers in 



the national language are first written, or when that language is first 
used for some official purpose, measures a crucial step in national evo¬ 
lution. The 1830s saw this step taken over large areas of Europe. Thus 
the first major Czech works on astronomy, chemistry, anthropology, 
mineralogy and botany were written or completed in this decade; and 
so, in Rumania, were the first school textbooks substituting Rumanian 
for the previously current Greek. Hungarian was adopted instead of 
Latin as the official language of the Hungarian Diet in 1840, though 
Budapest University, controlled from Vienna, did not abandon Latin 
lectures until 1844. (However, the struggle for the use of Hungarian as 
an official language had gone on intermittently since 1790.) In Zagreb 
Gai published his Croatian Gazette (later: Illyrian National Gazette) from 
1835 in the first literary version of what had hitherto been merely a 
complex of dialects. In countries which had long possessed an official 
national language, the change cannot be so easily measured, though it 
is interesting that after 1830 the number of German books published in 
Germany (as against Latin and French titles) for the first time con¬ 
sistently exceeded 90 per cent, the number of French ones after 1820 
fell below 4 per cent.* 8 More generally the expansion of publishing 
gives us a comparable indication. Thus in Germany the number of 
books published remained much the same in 1821 as in 1800—about 
4,000 titles a year; but by 1841 it had risen to 12,000 titles. 7 

Of course the great mass of Europeans, and of non-Europeans, 
remained uneducated. Indeed, with the exception of the Germans, the 
Dutch, Scandinavians, Swiss and the citizens of the USA, no people 
can in 1840 be described as literate. Several can be described as totally 
illiterate, like the Southern Slavs, who had less than one-half per cent 
literacy in 1827 (even much later only one per cent of Dalmatian 
recruits to the Austrian army could read and write) or the Russians 
who had two per cent (1840), and a great many as almost illiterate, like 
the Spaniards, the Portuguese (who appear to have had barely 8,000 
children in all at school after the Peninsular War) and, except for the 
Lombards and Piedmontese, the Italians. Even Britain, France and 
Belgium were 40 to 50 per cent illiterate in the 1840s. 8 Illiteracy is no 
bar to political consciousness, but there is, in fact, no evidence that 
nationalism of the modern kind was a powerful mass force except in 
countries already transformed by the dual revolution: in France,-in 
Britain, in the USA and—because it was an economic and political 
dependency of Britain—in Ireland. 

To equate nationalism with the literate class is not to claim that the 

* In th-: early eighteenth century only about 60 per cent of all titles published in Germany 
were in the German language; since then the proportion had risen fairly steadily. 



mass of, say, Russians, did not consider themselves ‘Russian’ when 
confronted with somebody or something that was not. However, for 
the masses in general the test of na'tionality was still religion: the 
Spaniard was defined by being Catholic, the Russian by being Ortho¬ 
dox. However, though such confrontations were becoming rather more 
frequent, they were still rare, and certain kinds of national feeling such 
as the Italian, were as yet wholly alien to the great mass of the people, 
which did not even speak the national literary language but mutually 
almost incomprehensible patois. Even in Germany patriotic mythology 
has greatly exaggerated the degree of national feeling against Napoleon. 
France was extremely popular in Western Germany, especially among 
soldiers, whom it employed freely.® Populations attached to the Pope 
or the Emperor might express resentment against their enemies, who 
happened to be the French, but this hardly implied any feelings of 
national consciousness, let alone any desire for a national state. More¬ 
over, the very fact that nationalism was represented by middle class 
and gentry was enough to make the poor man suspicious. The Polish 
radical-democratic revolutionaries tried earnestly—as did the more 
advanced of the South Italian Carbonari and other conspirators—to 
mobilize the peasantry even to the point of offering agrarian reform. 
Their failure was almost total. The Galician peasants in 1846 opposed 
the Polish revolutionaries even though these actually proclaimed the 
abolition of serfdom, preferring to massacre gentlemen and trust to the 
Emperor’s officials. 

The uprooting of peoples, which is perhaps the most important 
single phenomenon of the nineteenth century, was to break down this 
deep, age-old and localized traditionalism. Yet over most of the world 
up to the 1820s hardly anybody as yet migrated or emigrated, except 
under the compulsion of armies and hunger, or in the traditionally 
migratory groups such as the peasants from Central France who did 
seasonal building jobs in the north, or the travelling German artisans. 
Uprooting still meant, not the mild form of homesickness which was to 
become the characteristic psychological disease of the nineteenth cen¬ 
tury (reflected in innumerable sentimental popular songs), but the 
acute, killing mat de pays or mal de coeur which had first been clinically 
described by doctors among the old Swiss mercenaries in foreign lands. 
The conscription of the Revolutionary Wars revealed it, notably among 
the Bretons. The pull of the remote northern forests was so strong, that 
it could lead an Estonian servant-girl to leave her excellent employers 
the Kiigelgens in Saxony, where she was free, and return home to 
serfdom. Migration and emigration, of which the migration to the 
USA is the most convenient index, increased notably from the 1820s, 



though it did not reach anything like major proportions until the 1840s, 
when one and three-quarter millions crossed the North Atlantic (a little 
less than three times the figure for the 1830s). Even so, the only major 
migratory nation outside the British Isles was as yet the German, long 
used to sending its sons as peasant settlers to Eastern Europe and 
America, as travelling artisans across the continent and as mercenaries 

We can in fact speak of only one western national movement organ¬ 
ized in a coherent form before 1848 which was genuinely based on the 
masses, and even this enjoyed the immense advantage of identification 
with the strongest carrier of tradition, the Church. This was the Irish 
Repeal movement under Daniel O’Connell (1785-1847), a golden¬ 
voiced lawyer-demagogue of peasant stock, the first—and up to 1848 
the only one—of those charismatic popular leaders who mark the 
awakening of political consciousness in hitherto backward masses. (The 
only comparable figures before 1848 were Feargus O’Connor (1794- 
1855), another Irishman, who symbolized Chartism in Britain, and 
perhaps Louis Kossuth (1802-1894), who may have acquired some¬ 
thing of his subsequent mass prestige before the 1848 revolution, though 
in fact his reputation in the 1840s was made as a champion of the 
gentry, and his later canonization by nationalist historians makes it 
difficult to see his early career at all clearly.) O’Connell’s Catholic 
Association, which won its mass support and the not wholly justified 
confidence of the clergy in the successful struggle for CatholicEmanci- 
pation (1829) was in no sense tied to the gentry, who were in any case 
Protestant and Anglo-Irish. It was a movement of peasants, and such 
elements of a native Irish lower-middle class as existed in that pauper¬ 
ized inland. ‘The Liberator’ was borne into leadership by successive 
waves of a mass movement of agrarian revolt, the chief motive force of 
Irish politics throughout that appalling century. This was organized in 
secret terrorist societies which themselves helped to break down the 
parochialism of Irish life. However, his aim was neither revolution or 
national independence, but a moderate middle class Irish autonomy by 
agreement or negotiation with the British Whigs. He was, in fact, not a 
nationalist and still less a peasant revolutionary but a moderate middle 
class autonomist. Indeed, the chief criticism which has been not unjusti¬ 
fiably raised against him by later Irish nationalists (much as - the more 
radical Indian nationalists have criticised Gandhi, who occupied an 
analogous position in his country’s history) was that he could have 
raised all Ireland against the British, and deliberately refused to do so. 
But this does not alter the fact that the movement he led was genuinely 
supported by the mass of the Irish nation. 




Outside the zone of the modern bourgeois world there were, however, 
movements of popular revolt against alien rule (i.e. normally under¬ 
stood as meaning rule by a different religion rather than a different 
nationality) which sometimes appear to anticipate later national move¬ 
ments. Such were the rebellions against the Turkish Empire, against 
the Russians in the Caucasus, and the fight against the encroaching 
British raj in and on the confines of India. It is unwise to read too 
much modem nationalism into these, though in backward areas popu¬ 
lated by armed and combative peasants and herdsmen, organized in 
clan groups and inspired by tribal chieftains, bandit-heroes and 
prophets, resistance to the foreign (or better, the unbelieving) ruler 
could take the form of veritable people’s wars quite unlike the dlite 
nationalist movements in less Homeric countries. In fact, however, the 
resistance of Mahrattas (a feudal-military Hindu group) and Sikhs 
(a militant religious sect) to the British in 1803-18 and 1845-49 
respectively have little connection with subsequent Indian nationalism 
and produced none of their own.* The Caucasian tribes, savage, heroic 
and feud-ridden, found in the puritan Islamic sect of Muridism a 
temporary bond of unity against the invading Russians and in Shamyl 
(1797-1871) a leader of major stature; but there is not to this day a 
Caucasian nation, but merely a congeries of small mountain peoples 
in small Soviet republics. (The Georgians and Armenians, who have 
formed nations in the modem sense, were not involved in the Shamyl 
movement.) The Bedouin, swept by puritan religious sects like the 
Wahhabi in Arabia and the Senussi in what is today Libya, fought for 
the simple faith of Allah and the simple life of the herdsman and 
raider against the corruption of taxes, pashas and cities; but what we 
now know as Arab nationalism—a product of the twentieth century— 
has come out of the cities, not the nomadic encampments. 

Even the rebellions against the Turks in the Balkans, especially 
among the rarely subdued mountain peoples of the south and west, 
should not be too readily interpreted in modem nationalist terms though 
the bards and braves of several—the two were often the same, as among 
the poet-warrior-bishops of Montenegro—recalled the glories of quasi- 
national heroes like the Albanian Skanderbeg and the tragedies like 

* The Sikh movement has remained largely sui generis to this day. The tradition of comba¬ 
tive Hindu resistance in Maharashtra made that area an early centre of Indian nationalism, 
and provided some of its earliest—and highly traditionalist—leaders, notably B. G. Tilak; 
but this was at best a regional, and far from dominant strain in the movement. Something 
like Mahratta nationalism may exist today, but its social basis is the resistance of large 
Mahratta working-class and underprivileged lower middle class to the economically and 
until recently linguistically dominant Gujeratis. 



the Serbian defeat at Kossovo in the remote battles against the Turks. 
Nothing was more natural than to revolt, where necessary or desirable, 
against a local administration or a weakening Turkish Empire. How¬ 
ever, little but a common economic backwardness united what we now 
know as the Yugoslavs, even those in the Turkish Empire, and the very 
concept of Yugoslavia was the product of intellectuals in Austro- 
Hungary rather than of those who actually fought for liberty.* The 
Orthodox Montenegrins, never subdued, fought the Turks; but with 
equal zest they fought the unbelieving Catholic Albanians and the 
unbelieving, but solidly Slav, Moslem Bosnians. The Bosnians revolted 
against the Turks, whose religion many of them shared, with as much 
readiness as the orthodox Serbs of the wooded Danube plain, and with 
more zest than the orthodox ‘old Serbs’ of the Albanian frontier-area. 
The first of the Balkan peoples to rise in the nineteenth century were 
the Serbs under a heroic pig-dealer and brigand Black George (1760- 
1817) but the initial phase of his rising (1804-7) did not even claim 
to be against Turkish rule, but on the contrary for the Sultan against 
the abuses of the local rulers. There is little in the early history of 
mountain rebellion in the Western Balkans to suggest that the local 
Serbs, Albanians, Greeks and others would not in the early nineteenth 
century have been satisfied with the sort of non-national autonomous 
principality which a powerful satrap, Ali Pasha ‘the Lion of Jannina’ 
(1741-1822), for a time set up in Epirus. 

In one and only one case did the perennial fight of the sheep- 
herding clansmen and bandit-heroes against any real government fuse 
with the ideas of middle class nationalism and the French Revolution: 
in the Greek struggle for independence (1821-30). Not unnaturally 
Greece therefore became the myth and inspiration of nationalists and 
liberals everywhere. For in Greece alone did an entire people rise 
against the oppressor in a manner which could be plausibly identified 
with the cause of the European left; and in turn the support of the 
European left, headed by the poet Byron who died there, was of very 
considerable help in the winning of Greek independence. 

Most Greeks were much like the other forgotten warrior-peasantries 
and clans of the Balkan peninsula. A part, however, formed an inter¬ 
national merchant and administrative class also settled in colonies or 
minority communities throughout the Turkish Empire and beyond, 

* It is significant that the present Yugoslav regime has broken up what used to be classed 
as the Serb nation into the much more realistic sub-national republics and units of Serbia, 
Bosnia, Montenegro, Macedonia and Kossovo-Metohidja. By the linguistic standards of 
nineteenth century nationalism most of these belonged to a single ‘Serb' people, except the 
Macedonians, who are closer to the Bulgarians, and the Albanian minority in Kosmet. 
But in fact they have never developed a single Serb nationalism. 



and the language and higher ranks of the entire Orthodox Church, to 
which most Balkan peoples belonged, were Greek, headed by the Greek 
Patriarch of Constantinople. Greek civil servants, transmuted into vassal 
princes, governed the Danubian principalities (the present Rumania). 
In a sense the entire educated and mercantile classes of the Balkans, the 
Black Sea area and the Levant, whatever their national origins, were 
hellenized by the very nature of their activities. During the eighteenth 
century this hellenization proceeded more powerfully than before, 
largely because of the marked economic expansion which also 
extended the range and contacts of the Greek diaspora. The new and 
thriving Black Sea grain trade took it into Italian, French and British 
business centres and strengthened its links with Russia; the expansion 
of Balkan trade brought Greek or Grecized merchants into Central 
Europe. The first Greek language newspapers were published in 
Vienna (1784-1812). Periodic emigration and resettlement of peasant 
rebels further reinforced the exile communities. It was among this 
cosmopolitan diaspora that the ideas of the French Revolution— 
liberalism, nationalism and the methods of political organization by 
masonic secret societies—took root. Rhigas (1760-98), the leader of 
an early obscure and possibly pan-Balkanist revolutionary movement, 
spoke French and adapted the Marseillaise to Hellenic conditions. The 
Philiki Hetairia, the secret patriotic society mainly responsible for the 
revolt of 1821, was founded in the great new Russian grain port of 
Odessa in 1814. 

Their nationalism was to some extent comparable to the elite move¬ 
ments of the West. Nothing else explains the project of raising a rebellion 
for Greek independence in the Danube principalities under the leader¬ 
ship of local Greek magnates; for the only people who could be described 
as Greeks in these miserable serf-lands were lords, bishops, merchants 
and intellectuals. Naturally enough that rising failed miserably (1821). 
Fortunately, however, the Hetairia had also set out to enrol the anarchy 
of local brigand-heroes, outlaws and clan chieftains in the Greek 
mountains (especially in the Peloponnese), and with considerably 
greater success—at any rate after 1818—than the South Italian gentle¬ 
men Carbonari, who attempted a similar proselytization of their local 
banditti. It is doubtful whether anything like modern nationalism meant 
much to these ‘klephts’, though many of them had their ‘clerks’— 
a respect for and interest in book-learning was a surviving relic of 
ancient Hellenism—who composed manifestoes in the Jacobin termin¬ 
ology. If they stood for anything it was for the age-old ethos of a penin¬ 
sula in which the role of man was to become a hero, and the outlaw 
who took to the mountains to resist any government and to right the 


peasant’s wrongs was the universal political ideal. To the rebellions 
of men like Kolokotrones, brigand and cattle-dealer, the nationalists of 
the Western type gave leadership and a pan-hellenic rather than a 
purely local scale. In turn they got from them that unique and awe¬ 
inspiring thing, the mass rising of an armed people. 

The new Greek nationalism was enough to win independence, though 
the combination of middle class leadership, klephtic disorganization 
and great power intervention produced one of those petty caricatures 
of the Western liberal ideal which were to become so familiar in areas 
like Latin America. But it also had the paradoxical result of narrowing 
Hellenism to Hellas, and thus creating or intensifying the latent nation¬ 
alism of the other Balkan peoples. While being Greek had been little 
more than the professional requirement of the literate Orthodox Balkan 
Christian, hellenization had made progress. Once it meant the political 
support for Hellas, it receded, even among the assimilated Balkan 
literate classes. In this sense Greek independence was the essential pre¬ 
liminary condition for thp evolution of the other Balkan nationalisms. 

Outside Europe it is difficult to speak of nationalism at all. The 
numerous Latin American republics which replaced the broken 
Spanish and Portuguese Empires (to be accurate, Brazil became and 
remained an independent monarchy from 1816 to 1889), their frontiers 
often reflecting little more than the distribution of the estates of the 
grandees who had backed one rather than another of the local rebel¬ 
lions, began to acquire vested political interests and territorial aspira¬ 
tions. The original pan-American ideal of Simon Bolivar (1783-1830) 
of Venezuela and San Martin (1778-1850) of the Argentine was 
impossible to realize, though it has persisted as a powerful revolutionary 
current throughout all the areas united by the Spanish language, just 
as pan-Balkanism, the heir of Orthodox unity against Islam, persisted 
and may still persist today. The vast extent and variety of the continent, 
the existence of independent foci of rebellion in Mexico (which deter¬ 
mined Central America), Venezuela and Buenos Aires, and the special 
problem of the centre of Spanish colonialism in Peru, which was 
liberated from without, imposed automatic fragmentation. But the 
Latin American revolutions were the work of small groups of patricians, 
soldiers and gallicized evolu^s, leaving the mass of the Catholic poor 
white population passive and the Indians indifferent or hostile. Only in 
Mexico was independence won by the initiative of a popular agrarian, 
i.e. Indian movement marching under the banner of the Virgin of 
Guadalupe, and Mexico has consequently ever since followed a dif¬ 
ferent and politically more advanced road from the remainder of 
continental Latin America. However, even among the tiny layer of the 



politically decisive Latin Americans it would be anachronistic in our 
period to speak of anything more than the embryo of Colombian, 
Venezuelan, Ecuadorian, etc. ‘national consciousness’. 

Something like a proto-nationalism, however, existed in various 
countries of Eastern Europe, but paradoxically it took the direction of 
conservatism rather than national rebellion. The Slavs were oppressed 
everywhere, except in Russia and in a few wild Balkan strongholds; but 
in their immediate perspective the oppressors were, as we have seen, 
not the absolute monarchs, but the German or Magyar landlords and 
urban exploiters. Nor did the nationalism of these allow any place for 
Slav national existence: even so radical a programme as that of the 
German United States proposed by the republicans and democrats of 
Baden (in South-west Germany) envisaged the inclusion of an Illyrian 
(i.e. Croat and Slovene) republic with its capital in Italian Trieste, a 
Moravian one with its capital in Olomouc, and a Bohemian one led by 
Prague. 10 Hence the immediate hope of the Slav nationalists lay in the 
emperors of Austria and Russia. Various versions of Slav solidarity 
expressed the Russian orientation, and attracted Slav rebels—even the 
anti-Russian Poles—especially in times of defeat and hopelessness as 
after the failure of the risings in 1846. ‘Illyrianism’ in Croatia and a 
moderate Czech nationalism expressed the Austrian trend, and both 
received deliberate support from the Habsburg rulers, two of whose 
leading ministers—Kolowrat and the chief of the police system, 
Sedlnitzky—were themselves Czechs. Croatian cultural aspirations were 
protected in the 1830s, and by 1840 Kolowrat actually proposed what 
was later to prove so useful in the 1848 revolution, the appointment of 
a Croat military ban as chief of Croatia, and with control over the 
military frontier with Hungary, as a counterweight to the obstreperous 
Magyars. 11 To be a revolutionary in 1848 therefore came to be virtually 
identical with opposition to Slav national aspirations; and the tacit 
conflict between the ‘progressive’ and the ‘reactionary’ nations did 
much to doom the revolutions of 1848 to failure. 

Nothing like nationalism is discoverable elsewhere, for the social 
conditions for it did not exist. In fact, if anything the forces which were 
later to produce nationalism were at this stage opposed to the alliance 
of tradition, religion and mass poverty which produced the most 
powerful resistance to the encroachment of western conquerors and 
exploiters. The elements of a local bourgeoisie which grew up in Asian 
countries did so in the shelter of the foreign exploiters whose agents, 
intermediaries and dependants they largely were: the Parsee com¬ 
munity of Bombay is an example. Even if the educated and ‘enlight¬ 
ened’ Asian was not a compradore or a lesser official of some foreign ruler 



or firm (a situation not dissimilar to that of the Greek diaspora in 
Turkey), his first political task was to Westernize—i,e. to introduce the 
ideas of the French Revolution and of scientific and technical modern¬ 
ization among his people against the united resistance of traditional 
rulers and traditional ruled (a situation not dissimilar to that of the 
gendemen-Jacobins of Southern Italy). He was therefore doubly cut 
off from his people. Nationalist mythology has often obscured this 
divorce, pardy by suppressing the link between colonialism and the 
early native middle classes, partly lending to earlier anti-foreign resis¬ 
tance the colours of a later nationalist movement. But in Asia, in the 
Islamic countries, and even more in Africa, the junction between the 
£volu& and nationalism, and between both and the masses, was not 
made until the twentieth century. 

Nationalism in the East was thus the eventual product of Western 
influence and Western conquest. This link is perhaps most evident in 
the one plainly oriental country in which the foundations of what was to 
become the first modem colonial nationalist movement* were laid: in 
Egypt. Napoleon’s conquest introduced Western ideas, methods and 
techniques, whose value an able and ambitious local soldier, Mohammed 
Ali (Mehemet Ali),soon recognized. Having seized power and virtual 
independence from Turkey in the confused period which followed the 
withdrawal of the French, and with French support, Mohammed Ali 
set out to establish an efficient and Westernizing despotism with foreign 
(mainly French) technical aid. European leftwingers in the 1820s and 
30s hailed this enlightened autocrat, and put their services at his 
disposal, when reaction in their own countries looked too dispiriting. 
The extraordinary sect of the Saint-Simonians, equally suspended 
between the advocacy of socialism and of industrial development by 
investment bankers and engineers, temporarily gave him their collective 
aid and prepared his plans of economic development. (For them, see 
p. 241.) They thus also laid the foundation for the Suez Canal (built 
by the Saint-Simonian de Lesseps) and the fatal dependence of Egyptian 
rulers on vast loans negotiated by competing groups of European 
swindlers, which turned Egypt into a centre of imperialist rivalry and 
anti-imperialist rebellion later on. But Mohammed Ali was no more a 
nationalist than any other oriental despot. His Westernization, not his 
or his people’s aspirations, laid the foundations for later nationalism. 
If Egypt acquired the first nationalist movement in the Islamic world 
and Morocco one of the last, it was because Mohammed Ali (for 
perfectly comprehensible geopolitical reasons) was in the main paths 
of Westernization and the isolated self-sealed Sherifian Empire of the 
* Other than the Irish. 



Moslem far west was not, and made no attempts to be. Nationalism, 
like so many other characteristics of the modern world, is the child of 
the dual revolution. 


Part II 



I am your lord and my lord is the Tsar. The Tsar has a right to give me orders and 
I must obey, but not to give them to you. On my estate I am the Tsar, I am your god 
on earthy and I must be responsible for you to God in heaven .. .. First a horse must be 
curried ten times with the iron curry-comb, then only canyou brush it with the soft brush, 
I shall have to curry you pretty roughly, and who knows whether I shall ever get down 
to the brush. God cleanses the air with thunder and lightning, and in my village I shall 
cleanse with thunder and fire, whenever I think it necessary. 

A Russian estate owner to his serfs. 1 

The possession of a cow or two, with a hog, and a few geese, naturally exalts the 
peasant, in his own conception, above his brothers in the same rank of society. ... In 
sauntering ajter his cattle, he acquires a habit of indolence . . . . Day labour becomes 
disgusting; the aversion increases by indulgence; and at length the sale of a half-fed 
calf, or hog, furnishes the means of adding intemperance to idleness. The sale of the cow 
frequently succeeds, and its wretched and disappointed possessor, unwilling to resume 
the daily and regular course of labour, from whence he drew his former subsistence .. . 
extracts from the pool 3 s rate the relief to which he is in no degree entitled. 

Survey of the Board of Agriculture for Somerset, 1798* 


What happened to the land determined die life and death of 
most human beings in the years from 1789 to 1848. Consequendy the 
impact of the dual revolution on landed property, land tenure and 
agriculture was the most catastrophic phenomenon of our period. For 
neither the political nor the economic revolution could neglect land, 
which the first school of economists, the Physiocrats, considered the 
sole source of wealth, and whose revolutionary transformation all 
agreed to be the necessary precondition and consequence of bourgeois 
society, if not of all rapid economic development. The great frozen 
ice-cap of the world’s traditional agrarian systems and rural social 
relations lay above the fertile soil of economic growth. It had at all 
costs to be melted, so that that soil could be ploughed by the forces of 
profit-pursuing private enterprise. This implied three kinds of changes. 
In the first place land had to be turned into a commodity, possessed by 
private owners and freely purchasable and saleable by them. In the 
second place it had to pass into the ownership of a class of men willing 
to develop its productive resources for the market and impelled by 



reason, i.e. enlightened self-interest and profit. In the third place the 
great mass of the rural population had in some way to be transformed, 
at least in part, into freely mobile wage-workers for the growing non- 
agricultural sector of the economy. Some of the more thoughtful or 
radical economists were also aware of a fourth desirable change, though 
one difficult if not impossible to achieve. For in an economy which 
assumed the perfect mobility of all factors of production land, a 
‘natural monopoly’ did not quite fit. Since the size of the earth was 
limited, and its various pieces differed in fertility and accessibility, 
those who owned its more fertile parts must inevitably enjoy a special 
advantage and levy a rent on the rest. How this burden was to be 
removed or mitigated—e.g. by suitable taxation, by laws against the 
concentration of landownership or even by nationalization—was the 
subject of acute debate, especially in industrial England. (Such argu¬ 
ments also affected other ‘natural monopolies’ like railways whose 
nationalization was for this reason never considered incompatible with 
a private enterprise economy, and widely practised.*) However, these 
were problems of land in a bourgeois society. The immediate task was 
to install it. 

Two major obstacles stood in the way of such an imposition, and 
both required a combination of political and economic action: pre¬ 
capitalist landlords and the traditional peasantry. On the other hand 
the task could be fulfilled in a variety of ways. The most radical were 
the British and the American, for both eliminated the peasantry and 
one the landlord altogether. The classical British solution produced 
a country in which perhaps 4,000 proprietors owned perhaps four- 
sevenths of the land® which was cultivated—I take the 1851 figures— 
by a quarter of a million farmers (three-quarters of the acreage being in 
farms of from 50 to 500 acres) who employed about one and a quarter 
million of hired labourers and servants. Pockets of smallholders per¬ 
sisted, but outside of the Scots highlands and parts of Wales only the 
pedant can speak of a British peasantry in the continental sense. The 
classical American solution was that of the owner-occupying com¬ 
mercial farmer who made up for the shortage of a hired labour force 
by intensive mechanization. Obed Hussey’s (1833) and Cyrus Mc¬ 
Cormick’s (1834) mechanical reapers were the complement to the 
purely commercial-minded farmers or land-speculating entrepreneurs 
who extended the American way of life westwards from the New 
England states, seizing their land or later by buying it at the most 
nominal prices from the government. The classical Prussian solution 
was socially the least revolutionary. It consisted in turning feudal land- 

♦ Even in England it was seriously proposed in the 1840s. 



lords themselves into capitalist farmers and serfs into hired labourers. 
The Junkers retained control of their lean estates which they had long 
cultivated for the export market with servile labour; but they now 
operated with peasants ‘liberated’ from serfdom—and from land. 
The Pomeranian example, where later in the century some 2,000 
large estates covered 61 per cent of the land, some 60,000 middle and 
small holdings the rest and the remainder of the population was 
landless, is doubtless extreme; 4 but it is a fact that a rural labouring 
class was too unimportant for the word ‘labourer’ even to be mentioned 
in Krtiniz’ Encyclopaedia of Domestic and Agricultural Economy of 1773, while 
in 1849 the number of landless or substantially wage-employed rural 
labourers in Prussia was estimated at almost two millions. 6 The only 
other systematic solution of the agrarian problem in a capitalist sense 
was the Danish, which also created a large body of small and medium 
commercial farmers. However, it was due in the main to the reforms of 
the period of enlightened despotism in the 1780s, and therefore falls 
somewhat outside the range of this volume. 

The Northern American solution depended on the unique fact of a 
virtually unlimited supply of free land, and the absence of all relics of 
feudal relations or traditional peasant collectivism. Virtually the only 
obstacle to the extension of pure individualist farming was the slight 
one of the Red Indian tribes, whose lands—normally guaranteed by 
treaties with the British, French and American governments—were 
held in collectivity, often as hunting grounds. The total conflict 
between a view of society which regarded individual perfectly alienable 
property not merely as the only rational but the only natural arrange¬ 
ment and one which did not is perhaps most evident in the confronta¬ 
tion between Yankees and Indians. ‘Amongst the most mischievous and 
fatal [of the causes which prevented the Indians from learning the 
benefits of civilization],’ argued the Commissioner for Indian Affairs,* 
‘were their possession of too great an extent of country held in common, and the 
right to large money annuities; the one giving them ample scope for 
their indulgence in their unsettled and vagrant habits, and preventing 
their acquiring a knowledge of individuality in property and the advantage of 
settled homes; the other fostering idleness and want of thrift, and giving 
them means of gratifying their depraved tastes and appetites.’ To 
deprive them of their iands by fraud, robbery and any other suitable 
kind of pressure was therefore as moral as it was profitable. 

Nomadic and primitive Indians were not the only people who 
neither understood bourgeois-individualist rationalism on the land nor 
wished for it. In fact, with the exception of minorities of the enlightened, 
the acquisitive and the ‘strong and sober’ among the peasantry, the 


vast bulk of the rural population from the largest feudal lord down to 
the most poverty-stricken shepherd united in abominating it. Only a 
politico-legal revolution directed against both lords and traditional 
peasants could create the conditions in which the rational minority 
might become the rational majority. The history of agrarian relations 
over most of Western Europe and its colonies in our period is the 
history of this revolution though its full consequences were not felt 
until the second half of the century. 

As we have seen, its first object was to turn land into a commodity. 
Entails and other prohibitions of sale or dispersal which rested on noble 
estates had to be broken and the landowner therefore subjected to the 
salutary penalty of bankruptcy for economic incompetence, which 
would allow economically more competent purchasers to take over. 
Above all in Catholic and Moslem countries (Protestant ones had long 
since done so), the great bloc of ecclesiastical land had to be taken out 
of the Gothic realm of non-economic superstition and opened to the 
market and rational exploitation. Secularization and sale awaited 
them. The equally vast blocks of collectively owned—and therefore 
badly utilized—lands of village and town communities, common fields, 
common pastures, woodlands, etc., had to be made accessible to indi¬ 
vidual enterprise. Division into individual lots and ‘enclosure’ awaited 
them. That the new purchasers would be the enterprising, strong and 
sober could hardly be doubted; and thus the second of the objects of the 
agrarian revolution would be achieved. 

But only on condition that the peasantry, from whose ranks many of 
them would doubtless arise, was itself turned into a class freely capable 
of disposing of its resources; a step which would also automatically 
achieve the third object, the creation of a large ‘free’ labour force 
composed from those who failed to become bourgeois. The liberation of 
the peasant from non-economic bonds and duties (villeinage, serfdom, 
payments to lords, forced labour, slavery, etc.) was therefore also 
essential. This would have an additional and crucial advantage. For 
the free wage-labourer, open to the incentive of higher rewards, or the 
free farmer, could be shown, it was thought, to be a more efficient 
worker than the forced labourer, whether serf, peon or slave. Only one 
further condition had to be fulfilled. The very large number of those 
who now vegetated on the land to which all human history tied them, 
but who, if it were productively exploited, would be a mere surplus 
population,* had to be torn away from their roots and allowed to move 

* Thus it was estimated in the early 1830s that the pool of surplus employable labour was 
1 in 6 of the total population in urban and industrial England, 1 in 20 in France and Ger¬ 
many, 1 in 25 in Austria and Italy, 1 in 30 in Spain and 1 in too in Russia. 7 



freely. Only thus would they migrate into the towns and factories 
where their muscles were increasingly needed. In other words, the 
peasants had to lose their land together with their other bonds. 

Over most of Europe this meant that the complex of traditional legal 
and political arrangements commonly known as ‘feudalism’ had to be 
abolished, where it was not already absent. Broadly speaking, in the 
period from 1789 to 1848 this was achieved—mostly by direct or 
indirect agency of the French Revolution—from Gibraltar to East 
Prussia, and from the Baltic to Sicily. The equivalent changes in 
Central Europe only took place in 1848, in Russia and Rumania in 
the 1860s. Outside Europe something nominally like them was achieved 
in the Americas, with the major exceptions of Brazil, Cuba and the 
Southern USA where slavery persisted until 1862-88. In a few colonial 
areas directly administered by European states, notably in parts of 
India and Algeria, similar legal revolutions were also introduced. So 
they were in Turkey and, for a brief period, in Egypt. 8 

Except for Britain and a few other countries in which feudalism in 
this sense had either been abolished already or had never really existed 
(though traditional peasant collectivities had), the actual methods of 
achieving this revolution were very similar. In Britain no legislation 
to expropriate large property was necessary or politically feasible, for 
the large landowners or their farmers were already attuned to a 
bourgeois society. Their resistance to the final triumph of bourgeois 
relations in the countryside—between 1795 and 1846—was bitter. 
However, though it contained, in an inarticulate form, a sort of tradi¬ 
tionalist protest against the destructive sweep of the pure individualist 
profit-principle, the cause of their most obvious discontents was much 
simpler: the desire to maintain the high prices and high rents of the 
revolutionary and Napoleonic wars in a period of post-war depression. 
Theirs was an agrarian pressure-group rather than a feudal reaction. 
The main cutting edge of the law was therefore turned against the 
relics of the peasantry, the cottagers and labourers. Some 5,000 
‘enclosures’ under private and general Enclosure Acts broke up some 
six million acres of common fields and common lands from 1760 
onwards, transformed them into private holdings, and numerous less 
formal arrangements supplemented them. The Poor Law of 1834 was 
designed to make life so intolerable for the rural paupers as to force 
them to migrate to any jobs that offered. And indeed they soon began 
to do so. In the 1840s several counties were already on the verge of an 
absolute loss of population, and from 1850 land-flight became general. 

The reforms of the 1780s abolished feudalism in Denmark though their 
main beneficiaries there were not landlords but peasant tenants and 



owners who were encouraged after the abolition of the open fields to 
consolidate their strips into individual holdings; a process analogous to 
‘enclosure’ which was largely complete by 1800. Estates tended to be 
parcelled out and sold to their former tenants, though the post- 
Napoleonic depression, which small owners found harder to survive 
than tenants, slowed this process down between 1816 and about 1830. 
By 1865 Denmark was mainly a country of independent peasant 
owners. In Sweden similar but less drastic reforms had similar effects, so 
that by the second half of the nineteenth century traditional communal 
cultivation, the strip system had virtually disappeared. The formerly 
feudal areas of this country were assimilated to the rest of the country, 
in which the free peasantry had always been predominant, as it was 
overwhelmingly in Norway (after 1815 a part of Sweden, formerly of 
Denmark). A tendency to subdivide larger enterprises, in some regions, 
offet set by one to consolidate holdings, made itself felt. The net result 
was that agriculture improved its productivity rapidly—in Denmark 
the number of cattle doubled in the last quarter of the eighteenth 
century 9 —but with the rapid rise in population a growing number of 
the rural poor found no employment. After the middle of the nineteenth 
century their hardship led to what was proportionately the most 
massive of all the century’s movements of emigration (mostly to the 
American Midwest) from infertile Norway and a little later from 
Sweden, though less so from Denmark. 


In France, as we have seen, the abolition of feudalism was the work of 
the revolution. Peasant pressure and. Jacobinism pushed agrarian 
reform beyond the point where champions of capitalist development 
would have wished it to stop (cf. above pp. 49, 69-70). France as a 
whole therefore became neither a country of landlords and farm- 
labourers nor of commercial farmers, but largely of various types of 
peasant proprietors, who became the chief prop of all subsequent 
political regimes which did not threaten to take away their land. That 
the number of peasant owners increased by over 50 per cent—from 
four to six and a half millions—is an old, plausible, but not readily 
verifiable guess. All we know for certain is that the number of such 
proprietors did not diminish and in some areas increased more than in 
others; but whether the Moselle department, where it increased by 
40 per cent between 1789 and 1801, is more typical than the Norman 
Eure department, where it remained unchanged, 10 must await further 
study. Conditions on the land were, on the whole, good. Even in 1847-8 



there was no real hardship except among a section of the wage- 
labourers. 11 The flow of surplus labour from the village to town was 
therefore small, a fact which helped to retard French industrial 

Over most of Latin Europe, the Low Countries, Switzerland and 
Western Germany the abolition of feudalism was the work of the 
French conquering armies, determined to ‘proclaim immediately in 
the name of the French nation . . . the abolition of tithes, feudality and 
seigneurial rights’, 12 or of native liberals who co-operated with them or 
were inspired by them. By 1799 the legal revolution had thus con¬ 
quered in the countries adjoining Eastern France and in Northern and 
Central Italy, often merely completing an evolution already far ad¬ 
vanced. The return of the Bourbons after the abortive Neapolitan 
revolution of 1798-9 postponed it in continental Southern Italy until 
1808; the British occupation kept it out of Sicily, though feudalism was 
formally abolished in that island between 1812 and 1843. In Spain 
the anti-French liberal Cortes of Cadiz in 1811 abolished feudalism 
and in 1813 certain entails, though, as usual outside the areas pro¬ 
foundly transformed by long incorporation into France, the return of 
the old regimes delayed the practical application of these principles. 
The French reforms therefore began or continued, rather than com¬ 
pleted, the legal revolution in such areas as North-western Germany 
east of the Rhine and in the ‘Illyrian Provinces’ (Istria, Dalmatia, 
Ragusa, later also Slovenia and part of Croatia), which did not come 
under French rule or domination until after 1805. 

The French Revolution was not, however, the only force making 
for a thorough revolution of agrarian relations. The sheer economic 
argument in favour of a rational utilization of the land had greatly 
impressed the enlightened despots of the pre-revolutionary period, and 
produced very similar answers. In the Habsburg Empire Joseph II 
had actually abolished serfdom and secularized much church land in 
the 1780s. For comparable reasons, and because of their persistent 
rebellions the serfs of Russian Livonia were formally restored to the 
status of peasant proprietors which tlfoy had enjoyed rather earlier 
under Swedish administration. It did not help them in the slightest, 
for the greed of the all-powerful landlords soon turned emancipation 
into a mere instrument of peasant expropriation. After the Napoleonic 
wars the peasants’ few legal safeguards were swept away and between 
1819 and 1850 they lost at least one-fifth of their land while the noble 
demesnes grew between 60 and 180 per cent. 13 A class of landless 
labourers now cultivated them. 

These three factors—the influence of the French Revolution, the 



rational economic argument of civil servants, and the greed of the 
nobility, determined the emancipation of the peasants in Prussia 
between 1807 and 1816. The influence of the Revolution was clearly 
decisive; for its armies had just pulverized Prussia and thus demonstrated 
with dramatic force the helplessness of old regimes which did not adopt 
modern methods, i.e. those patterned on the French. As in Livonia, 
emancipation was combined with the abolition of the modest legal 
protection which the peasantry had previously enjoyed. In return for 
the abolition of forced labour and feudal dues and for his new property- 
rights the peasant was obliged, among other losses, to give his former 
lord one-third or one-half of his old holding or an equivalent and 
crippling sum of money. The long and complex legal process of transi¬ 
tion was far from complete by 1848, but it was already evident that 
while the estate owners had benefited greatly and a smaller number of 
comfortable peasants somewhat, thanks to their new property-rights, 
the bulk of the peasantry were distinctly worse off and the landless 
labourers were increasing fast.* 

Economically the result was beneficial in the long run, though the 
losses in the short run were—as often in major agrarian changes— 
serious. By 1830-31 Prussia had only just got back to the numbers of 
cattle and sheep of the beginning of the century, the landlords now 
owning a larger and the peasants a smaller share. On the other hand 
the area under tillage rose by well over a third and productivity by 
half in, roughly, the first half of the century. 15 The surplus rural 
population clearly grew rapidly; and since rural conditions were dis¬ 
tinctly bad-—the famine of 1846-8 was probably worse in Germany 
than anywhere else except Ireland and Belgium—it had plenty ofincen- 
tive to migrate. And indeed of all peoples before the Irish Famine, the 
Germans provided the largest body of emigrants. 

The actual legal steps to secure bourgeois systems of landed property 
were thus, as we have seen, taken mostly between 1789 and 1812. Their 
consequences, outside France and a few adjoining areas, made them¬ 
selves felt much more slowly, mostly because of the strength of social 
and economic reaction after Napoleon’s defeat. In general every 
further advance of liberalism pushed the legal revolutions a step further 
from theory to practice, every recovery of the old regimes- delayed 

* The creation of large estates and landless labourers was encouraged by the lack of local 
industrial development and the production of one or two main export crops (chiefly grain). 
This lends itself easily to such organization. (In Russia at this time 90 per cent of commercial 
grain sales came from estates, only 10 per cent from peasant holdings.) On the other hand 
where local industrial development created a growing and varied market for town food near 
by, the peasant or small fanner had the advantage. Hence, while in Prussia the peasant 
emancipation expropriated the serf, in Bohemia the peasant emerged from liberation after 
184S into independence. 14 



them, notably in Catholic countries where the secularization and sale 
of Church lands were among the most urgent of the liberal demands. 
Thus in Spain the temporary triumph of a liberal revolution in 1820 
brought a new law of‘unfettering’ ( Desvinculacion) which allowed nobles 
to sell their lands freely; the restoration of absolutism abrogated it in 
1823; the renewed victory of liberalism reaffirmed it in 1836 and so on. 
The actual volume of land transfers in our period, insofar as we can 
measure it, was therefore as yet modest, except in areas where an active 
body of middle class buyers and land-speculators stood ready to use 
their opportunities: on the plain of Bologna (North Italy) noble lands 
fell from 78 per cent of total value in 1789 through 66 per cent in 1804 
to 51 per cent in 1835. 16 On the other hand in Sicily 90 per cent of all 
land continued to remain in noble hands until much later. 17 * 

There was one exception to this: the lands of the church. These vast 
and almost invariably ill-utilised and ramshackle estates—it has been 
claimed that two-thirds of the land in the Kingdom of Naples around 
! 760 was ecclesiastical 19 —had few defenders and only too many wolves 
hovering round them. Even in the absolutist reaction in Catholic 
Austria after the collapse of Joseph II’s enlightened despotism nobody 
suggested the return of the secularized and dissipated monastery lands. 
Thus in one commune in the Romagna (Italy) church lands fell from 
42 • 5 per cent of the area in 1783 to 11 - 5 per cent in 1812; but the lost 
lands passed not only to bourgeois owners (who rose from 24 to 47 per 
cent) but also to nobles (who rose from 34 to 41 per cent). 20 Conse¬ 
quently it is not surprising that even in Catholic Spain the intermittent 
liberal governments managed by 1845 to sell off over half the church 
estates, most notably in the provinces in which ecclesiastical property 
was most concentrated or economic development was most advanced 
(in fifteen provinces over three-quarters of all church estates had been 
sold). 21 

Unfortunately for liberal economic theory this large scale redistri¬ 
bution of land did not produce that class of enterprising and progressive 
landlords or farmers which had been confidently expected. Why 
should even a middle class purchaser—a city lawyer, merchant or 
speculator—in economically undeveloped and inaccessible areas saddle 
himself with the investment and trouble of transforming landed pro¬ 
perty into a soundly run business enterprise, instead of merely taking 
the place, from which he had been hitherto debarred, of the former 
noble or clerical landlord, whose powers he could now exercise with 

* It has been plausibly suggested that this powerful rural bourgeoisie which ‘is in substance 
the social class guiding and regulating the march toward Italian unity*, by its very agrarian 
orientation, tended towards doctrinaire free trade, which gained Italian unily much goodwill 
from Britain, but also held back Italian industrialization. 18 



more regard for cash and less for tradition and custom? Throughout 
vast areas of Southern Europe a new and harsher set of ‘barons’ thus 
reinforced the old. The great latifundist concentrations were slightly 
diminished, as in continental Southern Italy, left untouched, as in 
Sicily, or even reinforced, as in Spain. In such regimes the legal 
revolution thus reinforced the old feudality by a new; all the more so 
as the small purchaser, and especially the peasant, hardly benefited at 
all from the land-sales. However, in most of Southern Europe the age- 
old social structure remained strong enough to make even the thought of 
mass migration impossible. Men and women lived where their ancestors 
had done, and, if they had to, starved there. The mass exodus from 
Southern Italy for instance was a half-century away. 

But even where the peasantry actually received the land, or were 
confirmed in its possession, as in France, parts of Germany, or Scandi¬ 
navia, they did not automatically, as hoped for, turn into the enter¬ 
prising class of small farmers. And this for the simple reason that while 
the peasantry wanted land, it rarely wanted a bourgeois agrarian 


For the old traditional system, inefficient and oppressive as it had been, 
was also a system of considerable social certainty and, at a most miserable 
level, of some economic security; not to mention that it was hallowed 
by custom and tradition. The periodic famines, the burden of labour 
which made men old at forty and women at thirty, were acts of God; 
they only became acts for which men were held responsible in times of 
abnormal hardship or revolution. The legal revolution, from the 
peasant’s point of view, gave nothing except some legal rights, but it 
took away much. Thus in Prussia emancipation gave him two-thirds 
or half the land he already tilled and freedom from forced labour and 
other dues; but it formally took away: his claim to assistance from the 
lord in times of bad harvest or cattle plague; his right to collect or buy 
cheap fuel from the lord’s forest; his right to the lord’s assistance in 
repairing or rebuilding his house; his right in extreme poverty to ask 
the lord’s help in paying taxes; his right to pasture animals in the lord’s 
forest. For the poor peasant it seemed a distinctly hard bargain. Church 
property might have been inefficient, but this very fact recommended 
it to the peasants, for on it their custom tended to become prescriptive 
right. The division and enclosure of common field, pasture and forest 
merely withdrew from the poor peasant or cottager resources and 
reserves to which he felt he (or rather he as part of the community) had 
a right. The free land market meant that he probably had to sell his 



land; the creation of a rural class of entrepreneurs, that the most hard¬ 
hearted and hard-headed exploited him instead of, or in addition to, 
the old lords. Altogether the introduction of liberalism on the land was 
like some sort of silent bombardment which shattered the social struc¬ 
ture he had always inhabited and left nothing in its place but the rich: 
a solitude called freedom. 

Nothing was more natural than that the peasant poor or the entire 
rural population should resist as best it could, and nothing was more 
natural than that it should resist in the name of the age-old customary 
ideal of a stable and just society, i.e. in the name of church and legiti¬ 
mate king. If we except the peasant revolution of France (and even 
this was in 1789 neither generally anti-clerical nor anti-monarchical) 
virtually all important peasant movements in our period which were 
not directed against the foreign king or church, were ostensibly made for 
priest and ruler. The South Italian peasantry joined with the urban 
sub-proletariat to make a social counter-revolution against the Nea¬ 
politan Jacobins and the French in 1799 in the name of the Holy 
Faith and the Bourbons; and these also were the slogans of the Calabrian 
and Apulian brigand-guerrillas against the French occupation, as later 
against Italian unity. Priests and brigand-heroes led the Spanish 
peasantry in their guerrilla war against Napoleon. Church, king and a 
traditionalism so extreme as to be odd even in the early nineteenth 
century, inspired the Carlist guerrillas of the Basque country, Navarre, 
Castile, Leon and Aragon in their implacable warfare against the 
Spanish Liberals in the 1830s and 1840s. The Virgin of Guadalupe led 
the Mexican peasants in 1810. Church and Emperor fought the 
Bavarians and French under the lead of the publican Andreas Hofer in 
Tyrol in 1809. The Tsar and Holy Orthodoxy were what the Russians 
fought for in 1812-13. The Polish revolutionaries in Galicia knew that 
their only chance of raising the Ukrainian peasantry was through the 
Greek-Orthodox or Uniate priests; they failed, for the peasants pre¬ 
ferred Emperor to gentleman. Outside France, where Republicanism 
or Bonapartism captured an important section of the peasantry between 
1791 and 1815, and where the Church had in many regions withered 
away even before the Revolution, there were few areas—perhaps most 
obviously those in which the Church was a foreign and long-resented 
ruler, as in the Papal Romagna and Emilia—of what we would today 
call left wing peasant agitation. And even in France Brittany and the 
Vendee remained fortresses of popular Bourbonism. The failure of the 
European peasautries to rise with Jacobin or Liberal, that is to say with 
lawyer, shopkeeper, estate administrator, official and landlord, doomed 
the revolutions of 1848 in those countries in which the French Revolu- 



tion had not given them the land; and where it had, their conservative 
fear of losing it, or their contentment, kept them equally inactive. 

Of course the peasants did not rise for the real king, whom they 
hardly knew, but for the ideal of the just king who, if only he knew, 
would punish the transgressions of his underlings and lords; though 
often they did rise for the real church. For the village priest was one of 
them, the saints were certainly theirs and nobody else’s, and even the 
tumbledown ecclesiastical estates were sometimes more tolerable land¬ 
lords than the grasping laymen. Where the peasantry had land and was 
free, as in Tyrol, Navarre, or (without a king) in the Catholic cantons of 
the original William Tell Switzerland, its traditionalism was a defence 
of relative liberty against the encroachment of liberalism. Where it had 
not, it was more revolutionary. Any call to resist the conquest of 
foreigner and bourgeois, whether launched by priest, king or anyone 
else, was likely to produce not only the sack of the houses of gentry and 
lawyers in the city, but the ceremonial march with drums and saints’ 
banners to occupy and divide the land, the murder of landlords and the 
rape of their women, the burning of legal documents. For surely it was 
against the real wish of Christ and king that the peasant was poor and 
landless. It is this firm foundation of social revolutionary unrest which 
made peasant movements in the areas of serfdom and large estates, or 
in the areas of excessively small and sub-divided property, so unreliable 
an ally of reaction. All they needed to switch from a formally legitimist 
revolutionism to a formally left-wing one was the consciousness that 
king and church had gone over to the side of the local rich, and a 
revolutionary movement of men like themselves, speaking in their own 
terms. Garibaldi’s populist radicalism was perhaps the first of such 
movements, and the Neapolitan brigands hailed him with enthusiasm, 
while continuing to hail Holy Church and the Bourbons. Marxism 
and Bakuninism were to be even more effective. But the transfer of 
peasant rebellion from the political right to the political left wing had 
hardly begun to occur before 1848, for the massive impact of the bour¬ 
geois economy on the land, which was to turn endemic peasant rebelli¬ 
ousness into an epidemic, only really began to make itself felt after the 
middle of the century, and especially during and after the great 
agrarian depression of the 1880s. 


For large parts of Europe, as we have seen, the legal revolution came 
as something imposed from outside and above, a sort of artificial earth¬ 
quake rather than as the slide of long-loosened land. This was even 



more obviously the case where it was imposed on a wholly non¬ 
bourgeois economy conquered by a bourgeois one, as in Africa and Asia. 

Thus in Algeria the conquering French came upon a characteris¬ 
tically medieval society with a firmly established and reasonably 
flourishing system of religious schools—it has been said that the French 
peasant soldiers were less literate than the people they conquered 22 — 
financed by the numerous pious foundations.* The schools, being 
regarded merely as nurseries of superstition were closed; the religious 
lands were allowed to be bought by Europeans who understood 
neither their purpose nor their legal inalienability; and the school¬ 
masters, normally members of the powerful religious fraternities, emi¬ 
grated to the unconquered areas there to strengthen the forces of revolt 
under Abd-el-Kader. The systematic transfer of the land to simple 
alienable private property began, though its full effects were only to 
be felt much later. How indeed was the European liberal to understand 
the complex web of private and collective right and obligation which 
prevented, in a region like Kabylia, the land collapsing into an anarchy 
of minute patches and fragments of individually owned fig-trees? 

Algeria had hardly been conquered by 1848. Vast areas of India 
had by then been directly administered by the British for more than a 
generation. Since no body of European settlers wished to acquire Indian 
land, no problem of simple expropriation arose. The impact of liberal¬ 
ism on Indian agrarian life was in the first instance a consequence of 
the British rulers’ search for a convenient and effective method of land- 
taxation. It was their combination of greed and legal individualism 
which produced catastrophe. The land tenures of pre-British India 
were as complex as any in traditional but not unchanging societies 
periodically overrun by foreign conquest, but rested, speaking broadly, 
on two firm pillars; the land belonged —de jure or de facto —to self- 
governing collectivities (tribes, clans, village communes, brotherhoods 
etc.), and the government received a proportion of its produce. 
Though some land was in some sense alienable, and some agrarian 
relations could be construed as tenancies, some rural payments as rent, 
there were in fact neither landlords, tenants, individual landed property 
or rent in the English sense. It was a situation wholly distasteful and 
incomprehensible to the British administrators and rulers, who pro¬ 
ceeded to invent the rural arrangement with which they were familiar. 
In Bengal, the first large area under direct British rule, the Mughal 
land tax had been collected by a species of tax-farmer or commission 
agent, the Zemindar. Surely these must be the equivalent of the 

* These lands correspond to the lands given to the church for charitable or ritual purposes 
in medieval Christian countries. 


British landlord, paying a tax assessed (as in the contemporary English 
land tax) on the whole of his estates, the class through which tax- 
collection ought to be organized, whose beneficent interest in the land 
must improve it, and whose political support of a foreign regime must 
give it stability? ‘I consider,’ wrote the subsequent Lord Teignmouth 
in the Minute of June 18, 1789, which outlined the ‘Permanent Settle¬ 
ment’ of Bengal land revenue, ‘the Zemindars as the proprietors of the 
soil, to the property of which they succeed by right of inheritance. . . . 
The privilege of disposing of the land by sale or mortgage is derived 
from this fundamental right... .’ 2a Varieties of this so-called Zemindari 
system were applied to about 19 per cent of the later area of British 

Greed rather than convenience dictated the second type of revenue 
system, which eventually covered just over half of the area of British 
India, the Ryotwari. Here the British rulers, considering themselves the 
successors to an oriental despotism which in their not wholly ingenuous 
view was the supreme landlord of all the land, attempted the herculean 
task of making individual tax assessments of every peasant, considering 
him as a small landed proprietor or rather tenant. The principle behind 
this, expressed with the habitual clarity of the able official, was agrarian 
liberalism at its purest. It demanded, in the words of Goldsmid and 
Wingate, ‘limitation of joint responsibility to a few cases where fields 
are held in common, or have been subdivided by coparceners; recog¬ 
nition of property in the soil; perfect freedom of management with 
regard to rent from sub-tenants, and sale, secured to its owners; 
facilities for effecting sales or transfers of land afforded, by the appor¬ 
tionment of the assessment on fields’. 24 The village community was 
entirely by-passed, in spite of the strong objections of the Madras 
Board of Revenue (1808-18), which rightly considered collective tax 
settlements with the village communities to be far more realistic, while 
also (and very typically) defending them as the best guarantee of 
private property, Doctrinairism and greed won, and ‘the boon of 
private property’ was conferred on the Indian peasantry. 

Its disadvantages were so obvious that the land settlements of the 
subsequently conquered or occupied parts of North India (which 
covered about 30 per cent of the later area of British India) returned 
to a modified Zemindari system, but with some attempts to recognize 
the existing collectivities, most notably in the Punjab. 

Liberal doctrine combined with disinterested rapacity to give another 
turn to the screw compressing the peasantry: they sharply increased the 
weight of taxation. (The land revenue of Bombay was more than 
doubled within four years of the conquest of the province in 1817-18.) 



Malthus’s and Ricardo’s doctrine of Rent became the basis of Indian 
revenue theory, through the influence of the utilitarian chieftain James 
Mill. This doctrine regarded the revenue from landed property as a pure 
surplus, which had nothing to do with value. It simply arose because 
some lands were more fertile than others and was appropriated, with 
increasingly baneful results for the whole economy, by landlords. To 
confiscate all of it therefore had no effect on a country’s wealth, except 
perhaps to prevent the growth of a landed aristocracy capable of hold¬ 
ing sound businessmen to ransom. In a country such as Britain the 
political strength of the agrarian interest would have made so radical 
a solution—which amounted to a virtual nationalization of the land— 
impossible; but in India the despotic power of an ideological conqueror 
could impose it. Admittedly at this point two liberal lines of argument 
crossed. The whiggish administrators of the eighteenth century and 
the older business interests took the common-sense view that ignorant 
smallholders on the verge of subsistence would never accumulate 
agrarian capital and thus improve the economy. They therefore fav¬ 
oured ‘Permanent Settlements’ of the Bengal type, which encouraged 
a class of landlords, fixed tax-rates for ever (i.e. at a diminishing rate) 
and thus encouraged savings and improvement. The utilitarian admin¬ 
istrators, headed by the redoubtable Mill, preferred land nationaliza¬ 
tion and a mass of small peasant-tenants to the danger of yet another 
landed aristocracy. Had India been in the least like Britain, the whig 
case would certainly have been overwhelmingly more persuasive, and 
after the Indian mutiny of 1857 it became so for political reasons. As 
it was, both views were equally irrelevant to Indian agriculture. More¬ 
over, with the development of the Industrial Revolution at home the 
sectional interests of the old East India Company (which were, among 
other things, to have a reasonably flourishing colony to milk) were 
increasingly subordinated to the general interests of British industry 
(which was, above all things, to have India as a market, a source of 
income, but not as a competitor). Consequently the utilitarian policy, 
which ensured strict British control and a markedly higher tax-yield, 
was preferred. The traditional pre-British limit of taxation was one- 
third of revenue; the standard basis for British assessment was one-half. 
Only after the doctrinaire utilitarianism had led to obvious impoverish¬ 
ment and the Revolt of 1857 was taxation reduced to a less extor¬ 
tionate rate. 

The application of economic liberalism to the Indian land created 
neither a body of enlightened estate-owners nor a sturdy yeoman 
peasantry. It merely introduced another element of uncertainty, 
another complex web of parasites and exploiters of the village (e.g. the 



new officials of the British raj), 25 a considerable shift and concentration 
of ownership, a growth of peasant debt and poverty. In Cawnpore 
district (Uttar Pradesh) over 84 per cent of estates were owned by 
hereditary landowners at the time the East India Company took over. 
By 1840, 40 per cent of all estates had been purchased by their owners, 
by 1872, 62-6 per cent. Moreover, of the more than 3,000 estates or 
villages—roughly three-fifths of the total—transformed from the original 
owners in three districts of the North-west Provinces (Uttar Pradesh) 
by 1846-7, over 750 had been transferred to moneylenders. 28 

There is much to be said for the enlightened and systematic despotism 
of the utilitarian bureaucrats who built the British raj in this period. 
They brought peace, much development of public services, adminis¬ 
trative efficiency, reliable law, and incorrupt government at the higher 
levels. But economically they failed in the most sensational manner. 
Of all the territories under the administration of European govern¬ 
ments, or governments of the European type, even including Tsarist 
Russia, India continued to be haunted by the most gigantic and 
murderous famines; perhaps—though statistics are lacking for the 
earlier period—increasingly so as the century wore on. 

The only other large colonial (or ex-colonial) area where attempts to 
apply liberal land law were made, was Latin America. Here the old 
feudal colonization of the Spaniards had never shown any prejudice 
against the fundamental collective and communal land-tenures of the 
Indians, so long as the white colonists got what land they wanted. The 
independent governments, however, proceeded to liberalize in the 
spirit of the French Revolutionary and Benthamite doctrines which 
inspired them. Thus Bolivar decreed the individualization of community 
land in Peru (1824) artd most of the new republics abolished entails in 
the manner of the Spanish liberals. The liberation of noble lands may 
have led to some reshuffling and dispersion of estates, though the vast 
hacienda ( estancia,jinca,fundo ) remained the dominant unit of landowner- 
ship in most ofthe republics. The attack on communal property remained 
quite ineffective. Indeed, it was not really pressed seriously until after 
1850. In fact, the liberalization of its political economy remained as 
artificial as the liberalization of its political system. In subs.tance, 
parliaments, elections, land laws, etc., notwithstanding, the continent 
went on very much as before. 


The revolution in land-tenure was the political aspect of the disruption 
of traditional agrarian society; its invasion by the new rural economy 



and the world market, its economic aspect. In the period from 1787 to 
1848 this economic transformation was as yet imperfect, as can be 
measured by the very modest rates of migration. Railways and steam¬ 
ships had hardly yet begun to create a single agricultural world market 
until the great farming depression of the later nineteenth century. 
Local agriculture was therefore largely sheltered from international or 
even inter-provincial competition. Industrial competition had hardly 
as yet impinged much on the numerous village crafts and domestic 
manufactures, except perhaps to turn some of them to production for 
rather wider markets. New agricultural methods—outside the areas of 
successful capitalist agriculture—were slow to penetrate the village, 
though new industrial crops, notably sugar-beet, which spread in 
consequence of the Napoleonic discrimination against (British) cane- 
sugar and new food-crops, notably maize and potatoes, made striking 
advances. It took an extraordinary economic conjuncture, such as the 
immediate proximity of a highly industrial economy and the inhibition 
of normal development, to produce a real cataclysm in an agrarian 
society by purely economic means. 

Such a conjuncture did exist, and such a cataclysm did occur in 
Ireland, and to a lesser extent, in India. What happened in India was 
simply the virtual destruction, within a few decades, of what had been 
a flourishing domestic and village industry which supplemented the 
rural incomes; in other words the deindustrialization of India. Between 
1815 and 1832 the value of Indian cotton goods exported from the 
country fell from £1-3 millions to less than £100,000, while the import 
of British cotton goods increased sixteen times over. By 1840 an observer 
already warned against the disastrous effects of turning India into ‘the 
agricultural farm of England; she is a manufacturing country, her 
manufactures of various descriptions have existed for ages, and have 
never been able to be competed with by any nation wherever fair play 
has been given to them. ... To reduce her now to an agricultural 
country would be an injustice to India.’ 27 The description was mis¬ 
leading; for a leavening of manufacture had been, in India as in 
many other countries, an integral part of the agricultural economy in 
many regions. Consequently deindustrialization made the peasant village 
itself more dependent on the single, fluctuating fortune of the harvest. 

The situation in Ireland was more dramatic. Here a population of 
small, economically backward, highly insecure tenants practising sub¬ 
sistence farming paid the maximum rent to a smallish body of foreign, 
non-cultivating, generally absentee landlords. Except in the north-east 
(Ulster) the country had long been deindustrialized by the mercantilist 
policy of the British government whose colony it was, and more 



recently by the competition of British industry. A single technical 
innovation—the substitution of the potato for the previously prevalent 
types of farming—had made a large increase in population possible; 
for an acre of land under potatoes can feed far more people than one 
under grass, or indeed under most other crops. The landlords’ demand 
for the maximum number of rent-paying tenants, and later also for a 
labour-force to cultivate the new farms which exported food to the 
expanding British market, encouraged the multiplication of tiny 
holdings: by 1841 in Connacht 64 per cent of all larger holdings were 
under five acres, without counting the unknown number of dwarf 
holdings under one acre. Thus during the eighteenth and early nine¬ 
teenth centuries the population multiplied on such patches, living on 
little except 10-12 lb. of potatoes a day per person and—at least until 
the 1820s—some milk and an occasional taste of herring; a population 
unparalleled in Western Europe for its poverty. 28 

Since there was no alternative employment—for industrialization 
was excluded—the end of this evolution was mathematically predic¬ 
table. Once the population had grown to the limits of the last potato 
patch carved out of the last piece of just cultivable bog, there would be 
catastrophe. Soon after the end of the French wars its advance signs 
appeared. Food shortage and epidemic disease began once again to 
decimate a people whose mass agrarian discontent is only too easily 
explained. The bad harvests and crop diseases of the middle forties 
merely provided the firing squad for an already condemned people. 
Nobody knows, or will ever precisely know, the human cost of the 
Great Irish Famine of 1847, which was by far the largest human 
catastrophe in European history during our period. Rough estimates 
suggest that something like one million people died of and through 
hunger and another million emigrated from the stricken island between 
1846 and 1851. In 1820 Ireland had just under seven million inhabi¬ 
tants. In 1846 she had perhaps eight and a half. In 1851 she was 
reduced to six and a half and her population has gone down steadily 
through emigration since. ‘Heu dira famesP wrote a parish priest, re¬ 
verting to the tones of chroniclers in the dark ages, l Heu saeva hujus 
memorabilis ami pestilential ,29 in those months when no children came 
to be christened in the parishes of Galway and Mayo, because none 
were born. 

India and Ireland were perhaps the worst countries to be a peasant 
in between 1789 and 1848; but nobody who had the choice would have 
wished to be a farm-labourer in England either. It is generally agreed 
that the situation of this unhappy class deteriorated markedly after the 
middle 1790s, partly through economic forces, partly through the 



pauperizing ‘Speenhamland System’ (1795), a well-meant but mis¬ 
taken attempt to guarantee the labourer a minimum wage by subsi¬ 
dizing wages out of poor rates. Its chief effect was to encourage farmers 
to lower wages, and to demoralize the labourers. Their feeble and 
ignorant stirrings of revolt can be measured by the increase in offences 
against the game laws in the 1820s, by arson and offences against 
property in the 1830s and 1840s, but above all by the desperate, helpless 
‘last labourers rising’, an epidemic of riot which spread spontaneously 
from Kent through numerous counties at the end of 1830 and was 
savagely repressed. Economic liberalism proposed to solve the labourers’ 
problem in its usual brisk and ruthless manner by forcing him to find 
work at an economic wage or to migrate. The New Poor Law of 1834, a 
statute of quite uncommon callousness, gave him poor relief only 
within the new workhouses (where he had to separate from wife and 
child in order to discourage the sentimental and unmalthusian habit 
of thoughtless procreation) and withdrawing the parish guarantee of a 
minimum livelihood. The cost of the poor law went down drastically 
(though at least a million Britons remained paupers up to the end of 
our period), and the labourers slowly began to move. Since agriculture 
was depressed their situation continued to be very miserable. It did not 
substantially improve until the 1850s. 

Farm-labourers were indeed badly off everywhere, though perhaps 
in the most backward and isolated areas no worse off than usual. The 
unhappy discovery of the potato made it easy to depress their standard 
of life in large parts of Northern Europe, and substantial improvement 
in their situation did not occur, e.g. in Prussia, until the 1850s or 1860s. 
The situation of the self-sufficient peasant was probably rather better, 
though that of the smallholder was desperate enough in times of famine. 
A peasant country like France was probably less affected by the general 
agricultural depression after the boom of the Napoleonic wars than any 
other. Indeed a French peasant who looked across the Channel in 1840 
and compared his situation and that of the English labourer with things 
in 1788 could hardly doubt which of the two had made the better 
bargain.* Meanwhile, from across the Atlantic, the American farmers 
observed the peasantry of the old world and congratulated themselves 
on their good fortune in not belonging to it. 

* ‘Having been much among the peasantry and labouring class both at home and abroad, 
I must in truth say that a more civil, cleanly, industrious, frugal, sober or better-dressed 
people than the French peasantry, for persons in their condition ... I have never known. 
In these respects they furnish a striking contrast with a considerable portion of the Scotch 
agricultural labourers, who are dirty and squalid io an excess; with many of the English, 
who are servile, broken-spirited ana severely straitened m their means of living; with the 
poor Irish, who are half-clad and in a savage condition. . . H. Colman, The Agricultural 
and Rural Economy of France, Belgium, Holland and Switzerland (1848), 25-6. 




These are indeed glorious times for the Engineers. 

James Nasmyth, inventor of the steam-hammer 1 
Devant de tels Umoins y o secte progressive , 

Vantez-nous le pouvoir de la locomotive , 

Xantez-nous le vapeur et les chemins de fer. 

A. Pommier 2 


Only one economy was effectively industrialized by 1848, the 
British, and consequently dominated the world. Probably by the 1840s 
the USA and a good part of Western and Central Europe had stepped 
across, or were on, the threshold of industrial revolution. It was already 
reasonably certain that the USA would eventually be considered— 
within twenty years, thought Richard Cobden in the middle 1830s 3 —a 
serious competitor to the British, and by the 1840s Germans, though 
perhaps no one else, already pointed to the rapid industrial advance of 
their countrymen. But prospects are not achievements, and by the 1840s 
the actual industrial transformations of the non-English-speaking world 
were still modest. There were, for instance, by 1850 a total of little 
more than a hundred miles of railway line in the whole of Spain, 
Portugal, Scandinavia, Switzerland and the entire Balkan peninsula, 
and (omitting the USA) less than this in all the non-European conti¬ 
nents put together. If we omit Britain and a few patches elsewhere, the 
economic and social world of the 1840s can easily be made to look not 
so very different from that of 1788. Most of the population of the 
world, then as earlier, were peasants. In 1830 there was, after all, still 
only one western city of more than a million inhabitants (London), 
one of more than half a million (Paris) and—omitting Britain—only 
nineteen European cities of more than a hundred thousand. 

This slowness of change in the non-British world meant that its 
economic movements continued, until the end of our period, to be 
controlled by the age-old-rhythm of good and bad harvests rather than 
by the new one of alternating industrial booms and slumps. The crisis 
of 1857 was probably the first that was both world-wide and caused by 



events other than agrarian catastrophe. This fact, incidentally, had the 
most far-reaching political consequences. The rhythm of change in 
industrial and non-industrial areas diverged between 1780 and 1848*. 

The economic crisis which set fire to so much of Europe in 1846-8 
was an old-style agrarian-dominated depression. It was in a sense the 
last, and perhaps worst, economic breakdown of the ancien regime in 
economics. Not so in Britain, where the worst breakdown of the period 
of early industrialism occurred between 1839 and 1842 for purely 
‘modern’ reasons, and indeed coincided with fairly low .corn-prices. 
The point of spontaneous social combustion in Britain was reached in 
the unplanned Chartist general strike of the summer of 1842 (the so- 
called ‘plug riots’). By the time it was reached on the continent in 1848, 
Britain was merely suffering the first cyclical depression of the long era 
of Victorian expansion, as also was Belgium, the other more or less 
industrial economy of Europe. A continental revolution without a 
corresponding British movement, as Marx foresaw, was doomed. What 
he did not foresee was that the unevenness of British and Continental 
development made it inevitable that the continent should rise alone. 

Nevertheless, what counts about the period from 1789 to 1848 is not 
that by later standards its economic changes were small, but that 
fundamental changes were plainly taking place. The first of these was 
demographic. World population—and especially the population of the 
world within the orbit of the dual revolution—had begun that un¬ 
precedented ‘explosion’ which has in the course of 150 years or so 
multiplied its numbers. Since few countries before the nineteenth 
century kept anything corresponding to censuses, and these in general 
far from reliable,f we do not know accurately how rapidly population 
rose in this period; it was certainly unparalleled, and greatest (except 
perhaps in underpopulated countries filling empty and hitherto under¬ 
utilized spaces such as Russia) in the economically most advanced areas. 
The population of the USA (swollen by immigration, encouraged by 
the unlimited spaces and resources of a continent) increased almost six 
times over from 1790 to 1850, from four to twenty-three millions. The 
population of the United Kingdom almost doubled between 1800 and 
1850, almost trebled between 1750 and 1850. The population of Prussia 
(1846 boundaries) almost doubled from 1800 to 1846, as did that of 
European Russia (without Finland). The populations of Norway, 
Denmark, Sweden, Holland, and large parts of Italy almost doubled 
between 1750 and 1850, but increased at a less extraordinary rate 

* The world triumph of the industrial sector once more tended to make it converge, 
though in a different manner. 

t The first British census was that of 1801; the first reasonably adequate one, that of 1831. 



during our period; that of Spain and Portugal increased by a third. 

Outside Europe we are less well-informed, though it would seem that 
the population of China increased at a rapid rate in the eighteenth and 
early nineteenth century, until European intervention and the tradi¬ 
tional cyclical movement of Chinese political history produced the 
breakdown of the flourishing administration of the Manchu dynasty, 
which was at the peak of its effectiveness in this period.* In Latin 
America it probably increased at a rate comparable to Spain’s.* There 
is no sign of any population explosion in other parts of Asia. Africa’s 
population probably remained stable. Only certain empty spaces popu¬ 
lated by white settlers increased at a really extraordinary rate, like 
Australia which in 1790 had virtually no white inhabitants but by 1831 
had a half-million. 

This remarkable increase in population naturally stimulated the 
economy immensely, though we ought to regard it as a consequence rather 
than as exogenous cause of the economic revolution; for without it so 
rapid a population growth could not have been maintained for more 
than a limited period. (Indeed, in Ireland, where it was not supple¬ 
mented by constant economic revolution, it was not maintained.) It 
produced more labour, above all more young labour and more con¬ 
sumers. The world or our period was a far younger world than any 
previous one: filled with children, and with young couples or people 
in th,e prime of their lives. 

The second major change was in communications. Railways were 
admittedly only in their infancy in 1848, though already of considerable 
practical importance in Britain, the USA, Belgium, France and Ger¬ 
many, but even before their introduction the improvement was, by 
former standards, breathtaking. The Austrian empire, for instance 
(omitting Hungary) added over 30,000 miles of road between 1830 and 
1847, thus multiplying its highway mileage by two-and-a-third. 5 
Belgium almost doubled its road network between 1830 and 1850, and 
even Spain, thanks largely to French occupation, almost doubled its tiny 
highway length. The USA, as usual more gigantic in its enterprises than 
any other country, multiplied its network of mail-coach roads more than 
eight times—from 21,000 miles in 1800 to 170,000 in 1850. 6 While 
Britain acquired her system of canals, France built 2,000 miles of them 
(1800-47), an d the USA opened such crucial waterways as the Erie and 
the Chesapeake and Ohio. The total shipping tonnage of the western 
world more than doubled between 1800 and the early 1840s, and already 
steamships linked Britain and France (1822) and plied up and down the 

* The usual dynastic cycle in China lasted about 300 years; the Manchu came to power 
in the mid seventeenth century. 



Danube. (There were in 1840 about 370,000 tons of steam shipping 
compared to nine million of sail, though in fact this may have already 
represented about one sixth of carrying capacity.) Here again the 
Americans outdid the rest of the world, racing even the British for the 
possession of the largest merchant fleet.* 

Nor would we underestimate the sheer improvement in speed and 
carrying capacity thus achieved. No doubt the coach-service which 
drove the Tsar of all the Russias from St Petersburg to Berlin in four 
days (1834) was not available to lesser humans; but the new rapid mail 
(copied from the French and English), which after 1824 drove from 
Berlin to Magdeburg in fifteen hours instead of two and half days, was. 
The railway and Rowland Hill’s brilliant invention of the standardized 
charge for postal matter in 1839 (supplemented by the invention of the 
adhesive stamp in 1841) multiplied the mails; but even before both, and 
in countries less advanced than Britain, it increased rapidly: between 
1830 and 1840 the number of letters annually sent in France rose from 
64 to 94 millions. Sailing ships were not merely faster and more 
reliable: they were on average also bigger. 7 

Technically, no doubt, these improvements were not as deeply 
inspiring as the railways, though the ravishing bridges, curving freshly 
across the rivers, the great artificial waterways and docks, the splendid 
clipper-ships gliding like swans in full sail, and the elegant new mail- 
coaches were and remain some of the most beautiful products of 
industrial design. But as means of facilitating travel and transport, of 
linking town and country, poor and rich regions, they were admirably 
effective. The growth of population owed much to them; for what in 
pre-industrial times holds it back is not so much the high normal 
mortality of men, but the periodic catastrophes of—often very localized 
—famine and food shortage. If famine became less menacing in the 
western world in this period (except in years of almost universal 
harvest failure such as 1816-7 and 1846-8), it was primarily because of 
such improvements in transport, as well as, of course, the general im¬ 
provement in the efficiency of government and administration (cf 
chapter 10). 

The third major change was, naturally enough, in the sheer bulk of 
commerce and migration. No doubt not everywhere. There is, for 
instance, no sign that Calabrian or Apulian peasants were yet prepared 
to migrate, nor that the amount of goods annually brought to the great 
fair of Nijniy Novgorod increased to any startling extent. 8 But taking 
the world of the dual revolution as a whole, the movement of men and 

* They almost achieved their object by 1860, before the iron ship once again gave the 
British supremacy. 



goods already had the momentum of a landslide. Between 1816 and 
1850 something like five million Europeans left their native countries 
(almost four-fifths of them for the Americas), and within countries the 
currents of internal migration were far vaster. Between 1780 and 1840 
the total international trade of the western world more than trebled; 
between 1780 and 1850 it multiplied more than fourfold. By later 
standards all this was no doubt very modest,* but by earlier ones—and 
these after all were what contemporaries compared their age with—they 
were beyond the wildest dreams. 


What was more to the point, after about 1830—the turning-point which 
the historian of our period cannot miss, whatever his particular field 
of interest—the rate of economic and social change accelerated visibly 
and rapidly. Outside Britain the period of the French Revolution and 
its wars brought relatively little immediate advance, except in the USA 
which leaped ahead after its own war of independence, doubling its 
cultivated area by 1810, multiplying its shipping sevenfold, and in 
general demonstrating its future capacities. (Not only the cotton-gin, 
but the steam-ship, the early development of assembly-line production 
—Oliver Evans’ flour-mill on a conveyor-belt—are American advances 
of this period.) The foundations of a good deal of later industry, 
especially heavy industry, were laid in Napoleonic Europe, but not 
much survived the end of the wars, which brought crisis everywhere. 
On the whole the period from 1815 to 1830 was one of setbacks, or 
at the best of slow recovery. States put their finances in order— 
normally by rigorous deflation (the Russians were the last to do so in 
1841). Industries tottered under the blows of crisis and foreign com¬ 
petition; the American cotton industry was very badly hit. Urbanization 
was slow: until 1828 the French rural population grew as fast as that of 
the cities. Agriculture languished, especially in Germany. Nobody 
observing the economic growth of this period, even outside the for¬ 
midably expanding British economy, would be inclined to pessimism; 
but few would judge that any country other than Britain and perhaps 
the USA was on the immediate threshold of industrial revolution. To 
take an obvious index of the new industry: outside Britain, the USA 
and France the number of steam engines and the amount of steam 
power in the rest of the world in the 1820s was scarcely worth the 
attention of the statistician. 

* Thus between 1850 and 1888 twenty-two million Europeans emigrated, and in 1889 
total international trade amounted to nearly £3,400 million compared to less than £600 
million in 1840. 



After 1830 (or thereabouts) the situation changed swiftly and dras¬ 
tically; so much so that by 1840 the characteristic social problems of 
industrialism—the new proletariat, the horrors of uncontrolled break¬ 
neck urbanization—were the commonplace of serious discussion in 
Western Europe and the nightmare of the politician and administrator. 
The number of steam engines in Belgium doubled, their horsepower 
almost trebled, between 1830 and 1838: from 354 (with 11,000 hp) to 
712 (with 36,000). By 1850 the small, but by now very heavily indus¬ 
trialized, country had almost 2,300 engines of 66,000 horse-power, 9 and 
almost 6 million tons of coal production (nearly three times as much as 
in 1830). In 1830 there had been no joint-stock companies in Belgian 
mining; by 1841 almost half the coal output came from such 

It would be monotonous to quote analogous data for France, for 
German states, Austria or any other countries and areas in which the 
foundations of modern industry were laid in these twenty years: Krupps 
of Germany, for instance, installed their first steam engine in, 1835, the 
first shafts of the great Ruhr coalfield were sunk in 1837, and the first 
coke-fired furnace was set up in the great Czech iron centre of Vit- 
kovice in 1836, Falck’s first rolling-mill in Lombardy in 1839-40. All 
the more monotonous as—with the exception of Belgium, and perhaps 
France—the period of really massive industrialization did not occur 
until after 1848. 1830-48 marks the birth of industrial areas, of famous 
industrial centres and firms whose names have become familiar from 
that day 10 this; but hardly even their adolescence, let alone their 
maturity. Looking back on the 1830s we know what that atmosphere of 
excited technical experiment, of discontented and innovating enterprise 
meant. It meant the opening of the American Middle West; but Cyrus 
McCormick’s first mechanical reaper (1834) and the first 78 bushels of 
wheat sent eastwards from Chicago in 1838 only take their place in 
history because of what they led to after 1850. In 1846 the factory which 
risked manufacturing a hundred reapers was still to be congratulated on 
its daring: ‘it was difficult indeed to find parties with sufficient boldness 
or pluck and energy, to undertake the hazardous enterprise of building 
reapers, and quite as difficult to prevail upon farmers to take their 
chances of cutting their grain with them, or to look favourably upon 
such innovation.’ 10 It meant the systematic building of the railways and 
heavy industries of Europe, and incidentally, a revolution in the tech¬ 
niques of investment; but if the brothers Pereire had not become the 
great adventurers of industrial finance after 1851, we should pay little 
attention to the project of ‘a lending and borrowing office where industry 
will borrow from all capitalists on the most favourable terms through 



the intermediary of the richest bankers acting as guarantors’, which 
they vainly submitted to the new French government in 1830. 11 

As in Britain, consumer goods—generally textiles, but also sometimes 
foodstuffs—led these bursts ofindustrialization; but capital goods—iron, 
steel, coal, etc.—were already more important than in the first British 
industrial revolution: in 1846 17 per cent of Belgian industrial em¬ 
ployment was in capital goods industries as against between 8 and 9 
per cent in Britain. By 1850 three-quarters of all Belgian industrial 
steam-power was in mining and metallurgy. 12 As in Britain, the average 
new industrial establishment—factory, forge or mine—was rather small, 
surrounded by a great undergrowth of cheap, technically unrevolu¬ 
tionized domestic, putting-out or sub-contracted labour, which grew 
with the demands of the factories and the market and would eventually 
be destroyed by the further advances of both. In Belgium (1846) the 
average number in a woollen, linen and cotton factory establishment 
were a mere 30, 35 and 43 workers, in Sweden (1838) the average per 
textile ‘factory 5 was a mere 6 to 7. 13 On the other hand there are signs 
of rather heavier concentration than in Britain, as indeed one might 
expect where industry developed later, sometimes as an enclave in 
agrarian environments, using the experience of the earlier pioneers, 
based on a more highly developed technology, and often enjoying 
greater planned support from governments. In Bohemia (1841) three- 
quarters of all cotton-spinners were employed in mills with over 100 
workers each, and almost half in fifteen mills with over 200 each. 14 
(On the other hand virtually all weaving until the 1850s was done on 
handlooms.) This was naturally even more so in the heavy industries 
which now came to the fore: the average Belgian foundry (1838) had 
80 workers, the average Belgian coal-mine (1846) something like 150; 16 
not to mention the industrial giants like CockerilPs of Seraing, which 
employed 2,000. 

The industrial landscape was thus rather like a series of lakes studded 
with islands. If we take the country in general as the lake, the islands 
represent industrial cities, rural complexes (such as the networks of 
manufacturing villages so common in the central German and Bohe¬ 
mian mountains) or industrial areas: textile towns like Mulhouse, Lille 
or Rouen in France, Elberfeld-Barmen (the home of Frederick Engels’ 
pious cotton-master family) or Krefeld in Prussia, southern Belgium or 
Saxony. If we take the broad mass of independent artisans, peasants 
turning out goods for sale in the winter season, and domestic or putting- 
out workers as the lake, the islands represent the mills, factories, mines 
and foundries of various sizes. The bulk of the landscape was still very 
much water; or—to adapt the metaphor a little more closely to reality 



—the reed-beds of small scale or dependent production which formed 
round the industrial and commercial centres. Domestic and other 
industries founded earlier as appendages of feudalism, also existed. 
Most of these—e.g. the Silesian linen-industry—were in rapid and 
tragic decline. 18 The great cities were hardly industrialized at all, 
though they maintained a vast population of labourers and craftsmen 
to serve the needs of consumption, transport and general services. Of 
the world’s towns with over 100,000 inhabitants, apart from Lyon, 
only the British and American ones included obviously industrial 
centres: Milan, for instance, in 1841 had a mere two small steam 
engines. In fact the typical industrial centre—in Britain as well as on 
the continent—was a small or medium-sized provincial town or a 
complex of villages. 

In one important respect, however, continental—and also to some 
extent American—industrialization, differed from the British. The pre¬ 
conditions for its spontaneous development by private enterprise were 
far less favourable. As we have seen, in Britain there was, after some 
200 years of slow preparation, no real shortage of any of the factors of 
production and no really crippling institutional obstacle to full capitalist 
development. Elsewhere this was not so. In Germany, for instance, there 
was a distinct capital shortage; the very modesty of the standard of life 
among the German middle classes (beautifully transformed though it 
was into the charming austerities of Biedermayer interior decoration) 
demonstrates it. It is often forgotten that by contemporary Germany 
standards Goethe, whose house in Weimar corresponds to rather more 
—but not much more—than the standard of comfort of the modest 
bankers of the British Clapham sect, was a very wealthy man indeed. 
In the 1820s Court ladies and even princesses in Berlin wore simple 
percale dresses throughout the year; if they owned a silk dress, they saved 
it for special occasions. 17 The traditional gild system of master, journey¬ 
man and apprentice, still stood in the way of business enterprise, of the 
mobility of skilled labour, and indeed of all economic change: the 
obligation for a craftsman to belong to a gild was abolished in Prussia 
in 1811, though not the gilds themselves, whose members were, more¬ 
over, politically strengthened by the municipal legislation of the period. 
Guild production remained almost intact until the 1830s and 40s. Else¬ 
where the full introduction of Gewerbefreiheit had to wait until the 1850s. 

A multiplicity of petty states, each with their controls and vested 
interests, still inhibited rational development. Merely to construct a 
general customs union (excluding Austria), as Prussia succeeded in 
doing in its own interest and by the pressure of its strategic position be¬ 
tween 1818 and 1834, was a triumph. Each government, mercantilist 

1 75 


and paternal, showered its regulations and administrative supervisions 
on the humble subject; to the benefit of social stability, but to the irrita¬ 
tion of the private entrepreneur. The Prussian State controlled the qual¬ 
ity and fair price of handicraft production, the activities of the Silesian 
domestic linen-weaving industry, and the operations of mine-owners 
on the right bank of the Rhine. Government permission was required 
before a man could open a mine, and could be withdrawn after he was 
in business. 

Clearly under such circumstances (which can be paralleled in 
numerous other states), industrial development had to operate rather 
differently from the British way. Thus throughout the continent 
government took a much greater hand in it, not merely because it was 
already accustomed to, but because it had to. William I, King of the 
United Netherlands, in 1822 founded the Societe Genhale pour favoriser 
l’Industrie Rationale des Pays Bas, endowed with State land, with 40 
per cent or so of its shares subscribed by the King and 5 per cent 
guaranteed to all other subscribers. The Prussian State continued to 
operate a large proportion of the country’s mines. Without exception 
the new railway systems were planned by Governments and, if not 
actually built by them, encouraged by the grant of favourable con¬ 
cessions and the guarantee of investments. Indeed, to this day Britain 
is the only country whose railway system was built entirely by risk¬ 
bearing and profit-making private enterprise, unencouraged by 
bonuses and guarantees to investors and entrepreneurs. The earliest 
and best-planned of these networks was the Belgian, projected in the 
early ’thirties, in order to detach the newly independent country from 
the (primarily waterborne) communication system based on Holland. 
Political difficulties and the reluctance of the conservative grande 
bourgeoisie to exchange safe for speculative investments postponed the 
systematic construction of the French network, which the Chamber had 
decided on in 1833; poverty of resources that of the Austrian, which the 
State decided to build in 1842, and the Prussian plans. 

For similar reasons continental enterprise depended far more than 
the British on an adequately modernized business, commercial and 
banking legislation and financial apparatus. The French Revolution 
in fact provided both: Napoleon’s legal codes, with their stress of 
legally guaranteed freedom of contract, their recognition of bills of ex¬ 
change and other commerical paper, and their arrangements for joint- 
stock enterprise (such as the socitU anonyme and the commandite, adopted 
all over Europe except in Britain and Scandinavia) became the general 
model for the world for this reason. Moreover, the devices for financing 
industry which sprang from the fertile brain of those revolutionary 


towards an industrial world 

young Saint-Simonians, the brothers Pereire, were welcomed abroad. 
Their greatest triumph had to await the world bopm era of the 1850s; 
but already in the 1830s the Belgian Societe Generate began to practise 
investment banking of the kind the Pereires envisaged and financiers in 
Holland (though not yet listened to by the bulk of businessmen) 
adopted the Saint-Simonian ideas. In essence these ideas aimed at 
mobilizing a variety of domestic capital resources which would not 
spontaneously have gone into industrial development, and whose 
owners would not have known where to invest them had they wanted 
to, through banks and investment trusts. After 1850 it produced the 
characteristic continental (especially German) phenomenon of the 
large bank acting as investor as much as banker, and thereby dominat¬ 
ing industry and facilitating its early concentration. 


However, the economic development of this period contains 
one gigantic paradox: France. On paper no country should have ad¬ 
vanced more rapidly. It possessed, as we have seen, institutions ideally 
suited to capitalist development. The ingenuity and inventiveness of its 
entrepreneurs was without parallel in Europe. Frenchmen invented or 
first developed the department store, advertising, and, guided by the 
supremacy of French science, all manner of technical innovations and 
achievements—photography (with Nicephore Ni&pce and Daguerre), 
the Leblanc soda process, the Berthollet chlorine bleach, electro¬ 
plating, galvanization. French financiers were the most inventive of the 
world. The country possessed large capital reserves which it exported, 
aided by its technical expertise, all over the continent—and even, after 
1850, with such things as the London General Omnibus Company, to 
Britain. By 1847 about 2,250 million francs had gone abroad 18 — 
a quantity second only to the British and astronomically bigger than 
any one else’s. Paris was a centre of international finance lagging only a 
little behind London; indeed, in times of crisis such as 1847, stronger. 
French enterprise in the 1840s founded the gas companies of Europe— 
in Florence, Venice, Padua, Verona—and obtained charters to found 
them all over Spain, Algeria, Cairo and Alexandria. French enterprise 
was about to finance the railways of the European continent (except 
those of Germany and Scandinavia). 

Yet in fact French economic development at the base was distinctly 
slower than that of other countries. Her population grew quietly, but 
it did not leap upwards. Her cities (with the exception of Paris) ex¬ 
panded only modestly; indeed in the early 1830s some contracted. Her 

1 77 


industrial power in the late 1840s was no doubt larger than that of all 
other continental European countries—she possessed as much steam- 
power as the rest of the continent put together—but she had lost ground 
relatively to Britain and was about to lose it relatively to Germany. 
Indeed, in spite of her advantages and early start, France never became 
a major industrial power comparable to Britain, Germany and the 

The explanation of this paradox is, as we have seen (see above 
pp. 69-70), the French Revolution itself, which took away with the hand 
of Robespierre much of what it gave with the hand of the Constituent 
Assembly. The capitalist part of the French economy was a super¬ 
structure erected on the immovable base of the peasantry and petty- 
bourgeoisie. The landless free labourers merely trickled into the cities; 
the standardized cheap goods which made the fortunes of the pro¬ 
gressive industrialist elsewhere lacked a sufficiently large and expanding 
market. Plenty of capital was saved, but why should it be invested in 
home industy? 19 The wise French entrepreneur made luxury goods 
and not goods for mass consumption; the wise financier promoted 
foreign rather than home industries. Private enterprise and economic 
growth go together only when the latter provides higher profits for the 
former than other forms of business. In France it did not, though 
through France it fertilized the economic growth of other countries. 

At the opposite extreme from France stood the USA. The country 
suffered from a shortage of capital, but it was ready to import it in any 
quantities, and Britain stood ready to export it. It suffered from an 
acute shortage of manpower, but the British Isles and Germany ex¬ 
ported their surplus population, after the great hunger of the middle 
forties, in millions. It lacked sufficient men of technical skill; but even 
these—Lancashire cotton workers, Welsh miners and iron-men—could 
be imported from the already industrialized sector of the world, and the 
characteristic American knack of inventing labour-saving and above 
all labour-simplifying machinery was already fully deployed. The USA 
lacked merely settlement and transport to open up its apparently endless 
territories and resources. The mere process of internal expansion was 
enough to keep its economy in almost unlimited growth, though 
American settlers, Governments, missionaries and traders already ex¬ 
panded overland to the Pacific or pushed their trade—backed by the 
most dynamic and second largest merchant fleet of the world—across 
the oceans, from Zanzibar to Hawaii. Already the Pacific and the 
Carribbean were the chosen fields of American empire. 

Every institution of the new republic encouraged accumulation, 
ingenuity and private enterprise. A vast new population, settled in the 



seaboard cities and the newly occupied inland states, demanded the 
same standardized personal, household and farm goods and equipment 
and provided an ideally homogeneous market. The rewards of invention 
and enterprise were ample: and the inventors of the steamship (1807- 
13), the humble tack (1807), the screw-cutting machine (1809), the 
artificial denture (1822), insulated wire (1827-31), the revolver (1835), 
the idea of the typewriter and sewing machine (1843-6) the rotary 
printing press (1846) and a host of pieces of farm machinery pursued 
them. No economy expanded more rapidly in this period than the 
American, even though its really headlong rush was only to occur after 

Only one major obstacle stood in the way of the conversion of the 
USA into the world economic power which it was soon to become: the 
conflict between an industrial and farming north and a semi-colonial 
south. For while the North benefited from the capital, labour and skills 
of Europe—and notably Britain—as an independent economy, the 
South (which imported few of these resources) was a typical dependent 
economy of Britain. Its very success in supplying the booming factories 
of Lancashire with almost all their cotton perpetuated its dependence, 
comparable to that which Australia was about to develop on wool, 
the Argentine on meat. The South was for free trade, which enabled it 
to sell to Britain and in return to buy cheap British goods; the North, 
almost from the beginning (1816), protected the home industrialist 
heavily against any foreigner—i.e. the British—who would then have 
undersold him. North and South competed for the territories of the 
West—the one for slave plantations and backward self-sufficient hill 
squatters, the other for mechanical reapers and - mass slaughterhouses; 
and until the age of the trans-continental railroad the South, which 
controlled the Mississippi delta through which the Middle West found 
its chief outlet, held some strong economic cards. Not until the Civil 
War of 1861-5—which was in effect the unification of America by and 
under Northern capitalism—was the future of the American economy 

The other future giant of the world economy, Russia, was as yet 
economically negligible, though forward-looking observers already 
predicted that its vast size, population and resources must sooner or 
later come into their own. The mines and manufactures created by 
eighteenth-century Tsars with landlords or feudal merchants as em¬ 
ployers, serfs as labourers, were slowly declining. The new industries— 
domestic and small-scale textile works—only began a really noticeable 
expansion in the 1860s. Even the export of corn to the west from the 
fertile black earth belt of the Ukraine made only moderate progress. 



Russian Poland was rather more advanced, but, like the rest of Eastern 
Europe, from Scandinavia in the north to the Balkan peninsula in the 
south, the age of major economic transformation was not yet at hand. 
Nor was it in Southern Italy and Spain, except for small patches of 
Catalonia and the Basque country. And even in Northern Italy, where 
economic changes were very much larger, they were far more obvious 
as yet in agriculture (always, in this region, a major outlet for capital 
investment and business enterprise) and in trade and shipping than in 
manufactures. But the development of these was handicapped all over 
Southern Europe by the acute shortage of what was then still the only 
important source of industrial power, coal. 

One part of the world thus swept forward towards industrial power; 
another lagged. But the two phenomena are not unconnected with each 
other. Economic stagnation, sluggishness, or even regression was the 
product of economic advance. For how could the relatively backward 
economies resist the force—or in certain instances the attraction—of the 
new centres of wealth, industry and commerce? The English and certain 
other European areas could plainly undersell all competitors. To be the 
workshop of the world suited them. Nothing seemed more ‘natural’ 
than that the less advanced should produce food and perhaps minerals, 
exchanging these non-competitive goods for British (or other West- 
European) manufactures. ‘The sun,’ Richard Cobden told the Italians 
‘is your coal’. 20 Where local power was in the hands of large landowners 
or even progressive farmers or ranchers, the exchange suited both sides. 
Cuban plantation owners were quite happy to make their money by 
sugar, and to import the foreign goods which allowed the foreigners to 
buy sugar. Where local manufacturers could make their voice heard, or 
local governments appreciated the advantages of balanced economic 
development or merely the disadvantages of dependence, the dis¬ 
position was less sunny. Frederick List, the German economist—as usual 
wearing the congenial costume of philosophic abstraction—rejected an 
international economy which in effect made Britain the chief or only 
industrial power and demanded protectionism; and so, as we have 
seen—minus the philosophy—did the Americans. 

All this assumed that an economy'was politically independent and 
strong enough to accept or reject the role for which the pioneer in¬ 
dustrialization of one small sector of the world had cast it. Where it 
was not independent, as in colonies, it had no choice. India, as we have 
seen, was in the process of de-industrialization, Egypt provided an 
even more vivid illustration of the process. For there the local ruler, 
Mohammed Ali, had in fact systematically set out to turn his country 
into a modern, i.e. among other things an industrial, economy. Not only 



did he encourage the growing of cotton for the world market (from 
1821), but by 1838 he had invested the very considerable sum of £12 
millions in industry, which employed perhaps thirty to forty thousand 
workers. What would have happened had Egypt been left to herself, 
we do not know. For what did happen was that the Anglo-Turkish 
Convention of 1838 forced foreign traders on to the country, thus under¬ 
mining the foreign trade monopoly through which Mohammed Ali 
had operated; and the defeat of Egypt by the West in 1839-41 forced 
him to reduce his army, and therefore removed most of the incentive 
which had led him to industrialize. 21 Not for the first or last time in the 
nineteenth century the gunboats of the west ‘opened’ a country to trade, 
i.e. to the superior competition of the industrialized sector of the world. 
Who, looking at Egypt in the time of the British protectorate at the 
end of the century, would have recognized the country which had, fifty 
years earlier—and to the disgust of Richard Cobden*—been the first 
non-white state to seek the modern way out of economic backwardness? 

Of all the economic consequences of the age of dual revolution this 
division between the ‘advanced’ and the ‘underdeveloped’ countries 
proved to be the most profound and the most lasting. Roughly speaking 
by 1848 it was clear which countries were to belong to the first group, 
i.e. Western Europe (minus the Iberian peninsula), Germany, Northern 
Italy and parts of central Europe, Scandinavia, the USA and perhaps 
the colonies settled by English-speaking migrants. But it was equally 
clear that the rest of the world was, apart from small patches, lagging, 
or turning—under the informal pressure of western exports and imports 
or the military pressure of western gunboats and military, expeditions— 
into economic dependencies of the west. Until the Russians in the 
1930s developed means of leaping this chasm between the ‘backward’ 
and the ‘advanced’, it would remain immovable, untraversed, and in¬ 
deed growing wider, between the minority and the majority of the 
world’s inhabitants. No fact has determined the history of the twentieth 
century more firmly than this. 

* ‘All this waste is going on with the best raw cotton, which ought to be sold to us. . . . 
This is not all the mischief, for the very hands that are driven into such manufactures are 
tom from the cultivation of the soil. , Morley, Life of Cobden , Chapter 3. 



One day I walked with one of these middle-class gentlemen into Manchester. I spoke 
to him about the disgraceful unhealthy slums and drew his attention to the disgusting 
condition of that part of town in which the factory workers lived. I declared that I had 
never seen so badly built a town in my life. He listened patiently and at the comer of 
the street at which we parted company , he remarked: * And yet there is a great deal of 
money made here. Good morning , Sir!’ 

F. Engels, Condition of the Working Class in England 1 
Vhabitude prhalut parmi les nouveaux financiers de favre publier dans lesjoumaux 
le menu des diners et les noms.des convives. 

M. Gapcfigue* 


The formal institutions overthrown or founded by a revolution 
are easily discernible, but they do not measure its effects. The chief 
result of the Revolution in France was to put an end to aristocratic 
society. Not to ‘aristocracy’ in the sense of hierarchy of social status 
distinguished by titles or other visible marks of exclusiveness, and often 
modelling itself on the prototype of such hierarchies, nobility ‘of blood’. 
Societies built on individual careerism welcome such visible and 
established marks of success. Napoleon even recreated a formal nobility 
of sorts, which joined the surviving old aristocrats after 1815. Nor did 
the end of aristocratic society mean the end of aristocratic influence. 
Rising classes naturally tend to see the symbols of their wealth and 
power in terms of what their former superior groups have established 
as the standards of comfort, luxury or pomp. The wives of enriched 
Cheshire drapers would become ‘ladies’, instructed by the numerous 
books of etiquette and gracious living which multiplied for this purpose 
from the 1840s, for the same reason as Napoleonic war-profiteers ap¬ 
preciated a baron’s title, or that bourgeois salons were filled with 
‘velvet, gold, mirrors, some poor imitations of Louis XV chairs and 
other furniture . . . English styles for the servants and horses, but with¬ 
out the aristocratic spirit 1 . What could be prouder than the boast of 
some banker, sprung from who knows where, that ‘When I appear in 
my box at the theatre, all lorgnettes are turned on me, and I receive an 
almost royal ovation?’ 3 


Moreover, a culture as profoundly formed by court and aristocracy 
as the French would not lose the imprint. Thus the marked preoccupa¬ 
tion of French prose literature with subde psychological analyses of 
personal relationships (which can be traced back to the seventeenth- 
century aristocratic writers), or the formalized eighteenth-century 
pattern of sexual campaigning and advertised lovers or mistresses, be¬ 
came an integral part of ‘Parisian’ bourgeois civilization. Formerly 
kings had official mistresses; now successful stock-jobbers joined them. 
Courtesans granted their well-paid favours to advertise the success of 
bankers, who could pay for them as well as of young bloods who ruined 
their estates by them. Indeed in many ways the Revolution preserved 
aristocratic characteristics of French culture in an exceptionally pure 
form, for the same reason as the Russian Revolution has preserved 
classical ballet and the typical nineteenth-century bourgeois attitude- 
to ‘good literature’ with exceptional fidelity. They were taken over by it, 
assimilated to it, as a desirable heritage from the past, and henceforth 
protected against the normal evolutionary erosion by it. 

And yet the old regime was dead, even though the fishermen of 
Brest in 1832 regarded the cholera as a punishment by God for the 
deposition of the legitimate king. Formal republicanism among the 
peasantry was slow to spread beyond the Jacobin Midi and some long 
dechristianized areas, but in the first genuine universal election, that 
of May 1848, legitimism was already confined to the West and the 
poorer central departments. The political geography of modern rural 
France was already substantially recognizable. Higher up the social 
scale, the Bourbon Restoration did not restore the old regime; or, 
rather, when Charles X tried to do so he was thrown out. Restoration 
society was that of Balzac’s capitalists and careerists, of Stendhal’s 
Julien Sorel, rather than that of the returned emigre dukes. A geological 
epoch separates it from the ‘sweetness of life’ of the 1780s to which 
Talleyrand looked back. Balzac’s Rastignac is far nearer to Maupas¬ 
sant’s Bel-Ami, the typical figure of the 1880s, or even to Sammy Glick, 
the typical one of Hollywood in the 1940s, than to Figaro, the non- 
aristocratic success of the 1780s. 

In a word the society of post-revolutionary France was bourgeois 
in its structure and values. It was the society of the parvenu, i.e. the self- 
made man, though this was not completely obvious except when the 
country was itself governed by parvenus, i.e. when it was republican or 
bonapartist. It may not seem excessively revolutionary to us, that half 
the French peerage in 1840 belonged to families of the old nobility, 
but to contemporary French bourgeois the fact that half had been 
commoners in 1789 was very much more striking; especially when they 



looked at the exclusive social hierarchies of the rest of continental 
Europe. The phrase ‘when good Americans die they go to Paris’ ex¬ 
presses what Paris became in the nineteenth century, though it did not 
fully become the parvenu’s paradise until the Second Empire. London, 
or even more Vienna, St Petersburg or Berlin, were capitals in which 
money could not yet buy everything, at any rate in the first generation. 
In Paris, there was very little worth buying that was beyond its reach. 

This domination of the new society was not peculiar to France; but 
if we except the democratic USA it was in certain superficial respects 
both more obvious and more official in France, though not in fact 
more profound than in Britain or the Low Countries. In Britain the 
great chefs were still those who worked for noblemen, like Careme for 
the Duke of Wellington (he had previously served Talleyrand), or for 
the oligarchic clubs, like Alexis Soyer of the Reform Club. In France 
the expensive public restaurant, started by cooks of the nobility who 
lost their jobs during the Revolution, was already established. A change 
of world is implied in the title-page of the manual of classical French 
cookery which read ‘by A. Beauvilliers, ancien officier de MONSIEUR, 
Comte de Provence . . . et actuellement Restaurateur, rue de Richelieu 
no. 26, la Grande Taverne de Londres’. 4 The gourmand —a species 
invented during the Restoration and propagated by Brillat-Savarin’s 
Almanack des Gourmands from 1817—already went to the Caft Anglais 
or the Caffi de Paris to eat dinners not presided over by hostesses. In 
Britain the press was still a vehicle of instruction, invective and political 
pressure. It was in France that Emile Girardin (1836) founded the 
modern newspaper —La Presse —political but cheap, aimed at the 
accumulation of advertising revenue, and made attractive to its readers 
by gossip, serial novels, and various other stunts.* (French pioneering 
in these dubious fields is still recalled by the very words ‘journalism’ 
and ‘publicity 1 in English, ‘Reklame’ and ‘Annonce’ in German.) 
Fashion, the department store, the public shop-window which Balzac 
hymnedf were French inventions, the product of the 1820s. The 
Revolution brought that obvious career open to talents, the theatre, 
into ‘good society’ at a time when its social status in aristocratic 
Britain remained analogous to that of boxers and jockeys: at Maisons- 
Lafitte (named after a banker who made the suburb fashionable), 
Lablache, Talma and other theatrical people established themselves 
by the side of the Prince de la Moskowa’s splendid house. 

* In 1835 the Journal des DSbats (about 10,000 circulation) got about 20,000 francs per 
year from advertisements. In 1838 the fourth page of La Presse was rented at 150,000 francs 
a year, in 1845 at 300,000.* 

t ‘Le grand poime de l’ltalage chante ses strophes de couleur depuis la Madeleine 
jusqu’& la Porte Saint-Denis.’ 



The effect of the Industrial Revolution on the structure of bourgeois 
society was superficially less drastic, but in fact far more profound. 
For it created new blocs of bourgeois which coexisted with the official 
society, too large to be absorbed by it except by a little assimilation at 
the very top, and too self-confident and dynamic to wish for absorption 
except on their own terms. In 1820 these great armies of solid business¬ 
men were as yet hardly visible from Westminster, where peers and theii 
relatives still dominated the unreformcd Parliament or from Hyde 
Park, where wholly unpuritan ladies like Harriete Wilson (unpuritan 
even in her refusal to pretend to being a broken blossom) drove their 
phaetons surrounded by dashing admirers from the armed forces, 
diplomacy and the peerage, not excluding the Iron and unbourgeois 
Duke of Wellington himself. The merchants, bankers and even the 
industrialists of the eighteenth century had been few enough to be 
assimilated into official society; indeed the first generation of cotton- 
millionaires, headed by Sir Robert Peel the elder, whose son was 
being trained for premiership, were fairly solidly Tory, though of a 
moderate kind. However, the iron plough of industrialization multiplied 
its hardfaced crops of businessmen under the rainy clouds of the 
North. Manchester no longer came to terms with London. Under the 
battle-cry ‘What Manchester thinks today London will think tomorrow’ 
it prepared to impose terms on the capital. 

The new men from the provinces were a formidable army, all the 
more so as they became increasingly conscious of themselves as a class 
rather than a ‘middle rank’ bridging the gap between the upper and 
lower orders. (The actual term ‘middle class’ first appears around 
1812.) By 1834 John Stuart Mill could already complain that social 
commentators ‘revolved in their eternal circle of landlords, capitalists 
and labourers, until they seemed to think of the distinction of society into 
these three classes as though it were one of God’s ordinances’. 6 More¬ 
over, they were not merely a class, but a class army of combat, organized 
at first in conjunction with the ‘labouring poor’ (who must, they as¬ 
sumed, follow their lead*) against the aristocratic society, and later 
against both proletariat and landlords, most notably in that most class¬ 
conscious body the Anti-Com-Law League. They were self-made men, 
or at least men of modest origins who owed little to birth, family or 
formal higher education. (Like Mr Bounderby in Dickens’ Hard Times, 
they were not reluctant to advertise the fact.) They were rich and 
getting richer by the year. They were above all imbued with the 

* ‘The opinions of tha t class of people who are below the middle rank are formed and their 
minds directed by that intelligent and virtuous rank, who come the most immediately into 
contact with them.’ James Mill, An Essay on Government, 1823. 



ferocious and dynamic self-confidence of those whose own careers prove 
to them that divine providence, science and history have combined to 
present the earth to them on a platter. 

‘Political economy’, translated into a few simple dogmatic propo¬ 
sitions by self-made journalist-publishers who hymned the virtues of 
capitalism—Edward Baines of the Leeds Mercury (1774-1848), John 
Edward Taylor of the Manchester Guardian (1791-1844), Archibald 
Prentice of the Manchester Times (1792-1857), Samuel Smiles (1812- 
1904)—gave them intellectual certainty. Protestant dissent of the hard 
Independent, Unitarian, Baptist and Quaker rather than the emotional 
Methodist type gave them spiritual certainty and a contempt for 
useless aristocrats. Neither fear, anger, nor even pity moved the em¬ 
ployer who told his workers: 

‘The God of Nature has established a just and equitable law which man has 
no right to disturb; when he ventures to do so it is always certain that he, 
sooner or later, meets with corresponding punishment... Thus when masters 
audaciously combine that by an union of power they may more effectually 
oppress their servants; by such an act, they insult the majesty of Heaven, 
and bring down the curse of God upon themselves, while on the other hand, 
when servants unite to extort from their employers that share of the profit 
which of right belongs to the master, they equally violate the laws of equity. ’ 7 

There was an order in the universe, but it was no longer the order of the 
past. There was only one God, whose name was steam and spoke in 
the voice of Mai thus, McCulloch, and anyone who employed machinery. 

The fringe of agnostic eighteenth-century intellectuals and self-made 
scholars and writers who spoke for them should not obscure the fact 
that most of them were far too busy making money to bother about 
anything unconnected with this pursuit. They appreciated their intel¬ 
lectuals, even when, like Richard Cobden (1804-1865) they were not 
particularly successful businessmen, so long as they avoided unpractical 
and excessively sophisticated ideas, for they were practical men whose 
own lack of education made them suspect anything that went much 
beyond empiricism. Charles Babbage the scientist (1792-1871) pro¬ 
posed his scientific methods to them in vain. Sir Henry Cole, the pioneer 
of industrial design, technical education and transport rationalization, 
gave them (with the inestimable help of the German Prince Consort) 
the most brilliant monument of their endeavours, the Great Exhibition 
of 1851. But he was forced out of public life nevertheless as a meddling 
busybody with a taste for bureaucracy, which, like all government 
interference, they detested, when it did not directly assist their profits. 



George Stephenson, the self-made colliery mechanic, dominated the 
new railways, imposing the gauge of the old horse and cart on them— 
he had never thought of anything else—rather than the imaginative, 
sophisticated and daring engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunei, who 
has no monument in the pantheon of engineers constructed by Samuel 
Smiles, except the damning phrase: ‘measured by practical and 
profitable results the Stephensons were unquestionably the safer men 
to follow’. 8 The philosophic radicals did their best to construct a net¬ 
work of ‘Mechanics’ Institutes’—purged of the politically disastrous 
errors which the operatives insisted, against nature, on hearing in such 
places—in order to train the technicians of the new and scientifically 
based industries. By 1848 most of them were moribund, for want of any 
general recognition that such technological education could teach the 
Englishman (as distinct from the German or Frenchman) anything 
useful. There were intelligent, experimentally minded, and even cul¬ 
tured manufacturers in plenty, thronging to the meetings of the new 
British Association for the Advancement of Science; but it would be 
an error to suppose that they represented the norm of their class. 

A generation of such men grew up in the years between Trafalgar 
and the Great Exhibition. Their predecessors, brought up in the social 
framework of cultured and rationalist provincial merchants and dis¬ 
senting ministers and the intellectual framework of the whig century, 
were perhaps a less barbarous lot: Josiah Wedgwood the potter (1730- 
1795) was an FRS, a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, and a member 
of the Lunar Society with Matthew Boulton, his partner James Watt 
and the chemist and revolutionary Priestley. (His son Thomas experi¬ 
mented with photography, published scientific papers and subsidized 
the poet Coleridge.) The manufacturer of the eighteenth century 
naturally built his factories to the design of Georgian builders’ books. 
Their successors, if not more cultured, were at least more prodigal, for 
by the 1840s they had made enough money to spend freely on pseudo- 
baronial residences, pseudo-gothic and pseudo-renaissance town-halls, 
and to rebuild their modest and utilitarian or classic chapels in the 
perpendicular style. But between the Georgian and the Victorian era 
there came what has been rightly called the bleak age of the bourgeoisie 
as well as of the working classes, whose lineaments Charles Dickens has 
forever caught in his Hard Times. 

A pietistic protestantism, rigid, self-righteous, unintellectual, ob¬ 
sessed with puritan morality to the point where hypocrisy was its 
automatic companion, dominated this desolate epoch. ‘Virtue’, as G. M. 
Young said, ‘advanced on a broad invincible front’; and it trod the 
unvirtuous, the weak, the sinful (i.e. those who neither made money nor 



controlled their emotional or financial expenditures) into the mud 
where they so plainly belonged, deserving at best only of their betters’ 
charity. There was some capitalist economic sense in this. Small entre¬ 
preneurs had to plough back much of their profits into the business if 
they were to become big entrepreneurs. The masses of new proletarians 
had to be broken into the industrial rhythm of labour by the most 
draconic labour discipline, or left to rot if they would not accept it. 
And yet even today the heart contracts at the sight of the landscape 
constructed by that generation:” 

You saw nothing in Coketownbut what was severely workful. Ifthe members 
of a religious persuasion built a chapel there—as the members of eighteen 
religious persuasions had done—they made it a pious warehouse of red brick, 
with sometimes (but this only in highly ornamented examples) a bell in a 
bird-cage on the top of it. . . . All the public inscriptions in the town were 
painted alike, in severe characters of black and white. The jail might have 
been the infirmary, the infirmary might have been the jail, the town-hall 
might have been either, or both, or anything else, for anything that appeared 
to the contrary in the graces of their construction. Fact, fact, fact, every¬ 
where in the material aspect of the town; fact, fact, fact, everywhere in the 
immaterial. . . . Everything was fact between the lying-in hospital and the 
cemetery, and what you couldn’t state in figures, or show to be purchaseable 
in the cheapest market and saleable in the dearest, was not and never should 
be, world without end, Amen.* 

This gaunt devotion to bourgeois utilitarianism, which the evan¬ 
gelicals and puritans shared with the agnostic eighteenth-century 
‘philosophic radicals’ who put it into logical words for them, produced 
its own functional beauty in railway lines, bridges and warehouses, and 
its romantic horror in the smoke-drenched endless grey-black or reddish 
files of small houses overlooked by the fortresses of the mills. Outside 
it the new bourgeoisie lived (if it had accumulated enough money to 
move), dispensing command, moral education and assistance to mis¬ 
sionary endeavour among the black heathen abroad. Its men personi¬ 
fied the money which proved their right to rule the world; its women, 
deprived by their husbands’ money even of the satisfaction of actually 
doing household work, personified the virtue of their class: stupid (‘be 
good sweet maid, and let who will be clever’), uneducated, impractical, 
theoretically unsexual, propertyless and protected. They were the only 
luxury which the age of thrift and self-help allowed itself. 

* Cf. L£on Fauchcr, Manchester in 1844 (1844) p. 24-5: ‘The town realises in a measure 
the utopia of Bentham. Everything is measured in its results by the standards of utility; 
and if the BEAUTIFUL, the GREAT, and the NOBLE ever take root in Manchester, they 
will be developed in accordance with this standard/ 



The British manufacturing bourgeoisie was the most extreme example 
of its class, but all over the continent there were smaller groups of the 
same kind: Catholic in the textile districts of the French North or 
Catalonia, Calvinist in Alsace, Lutheran pietist in the Rhineland, 
Jewish all over central and eastern Europe. They were rarely quite as 
hard as in Britain, for they were rarely quite as divorced from older 
traditions of urban life and paternalism. Leon Faucher was painfully 
struck, in spite of his doctrinaire liberalism, by the sight of Manchester 
in the 1840s, as which continental observer was not? 10 But they shared 
with the English the confidence which came from steady enrichment— 
between 1830 and 1856 the marriage portions of the Dansette family 
in Lille increased from 15,000 to 50,000 francs 11 —the absolute faith in 
economic liberalism, and the rejection of non-economic activities. The 
spinners’ dynasties of Lille maintained their total contempt for the 
career of arms until the first world war. The Dollfus of Mulhouse 
dissuaded their young Frederic Engel from entering the famous Poly¬ 
technique, because they feared it might lead him into a military rather 
than a business career. Aristocracy and its pedigrees did not to begin 
with tempt them excessively: like Napoleon’s marshals they were 
themselves ancestors. 


The crucial achievement of the two revolutions was thus that they 
opened careers to talent, or at any rate to energy, shrewdness, hard 
work and greed. Not all careers, and not to the top rungs of the ladder, 
except perhaps in the USA. And yet, how extraordinary were the 
opportunities, how remote from the nineteenth century the static 
hierarchical ideal of the past! Kabinettsrat von Scheie of the Kingdom 
of Hanover, who refused the application of a poor young lawyer for a 
government post on the grounds that his father was a bookbinder, and 
he ought to have stuck to that trade, now appeared both vicious and 
ridiculous. 12 Yet he was doing no more than repeat the age-old pro¬ 
verbial wisdom of the stable pre-capitalist society, and in 1750 the son 
of a bookbinder would, in all probability, have stuck to his father’s 
trade. Now he no longer had to. Four roads to the stars opened before 
him: business, education (which in turn led to the three goals of govern¬ 
ment service, politics and the free professions), the arts and war. The 
last, important enough in France during the revolutionary and Napo¬ 
leonic period, ceased to be of much significance during the long 
generations of peace which succeeded, and perhaps for this reason also 
ceased to be very attractive. The third was new only insofar as the 



public rewards of an exceptional capacity to entertain or move the 
public were now much greater than ever before, as is shown by the 
rising social status of the stage, which was eventually to produce, in 
Edwardian Britain, the linked phenomena of the knighted actor and 
the nobleman marrying the chorus-girl. Even in the post-Napoleonic 
period they already produced the characteristic phenomena of the 
idolized singer (e.g. Jenny Lind, the ‘Swedish Nightingale’) or dancer 
(e.g. Fanny Elssler) and the deified concert artist (e.g. Paganini and 
Franz Liszt). 

Neither business nor education were high roads open to everybody 
even among those who were sufficiendy emancipated from the grip of 
custom and tradition to believe that ‘people like us’ would be admitted 
to them, to know how to operate in an individualist society, or to 
accept the desirability of‘bettering themselves’. A toll had to be paid 
by intending travellers: without some initial resources, however minimal, 
it was difficult to get started on the highway to success. This admission 
toll was unquestionably higher for those entering upon the education 
road than upon the business road, for even in the countries which had 
acquired a public educational system primary education was in general 
grossly neglected; and, even where it existed, was confined for political 
reasons to a minimum of literacy, arithmetic and moral obedience. 
However, at first sight paradoxically, the educational highway seemed 
more attractive than the business highway. 

This was no doubt because it required a much smaller revolution in 
men’s habits and ways of life. Learning, if only in the form of clerical 
learning, had its accepted and socially valued place in the traditional 
society; indeed a more eminent place than in the fully bourgeois 
society. To have a priest, minister or rabbi in the family was perhaps 
the greatest honour to which poor men could aspire, and well worth 
making titanic sacrifices for. This social admiration could be readily 
transferred, once such careers were open, to the secular intellectual, 
the official or teacher or, in the most marvellous cases, the lawyer and 
doctor. Moreover, learning was not anti-social as business so clearly 
seemed to be. The educated man did not automatically turn and rend 
his like as the shameless and selfish trader or employer would. Often 
indeed, especially as a teacher, he plainly helped to raise his fellows out 
of that ignorance and darkness which seemed responsible for their 
miseries. A general thirst for education was much easier to create than 
a general thirst for individual business success, and schooling more 
easily acquired than the strange arts of money-making. Communities 
almost wholly composed of small peasants, small traders and prole¬ 
tarians, like Wales, could simultaneously develop a hunger to push 



their sons into teaching and the ministry and a bitter social resentment 
against wealth and business as such. 

Nevertheless in a sense education represented individualist com¬ 
petition, the ‘career open to talent’ and the triumph of merit over 
birth and connection quite as effectively as business, and this through 
the device of the competitive examination. As usual, the French 
Revolution produced its most logical expression, the parallel hier¬ 
archies of examinations which still progressively select from among the 
national body of scholarship winners the intellectual 61 ite that ad¬ 
ministers and instructs the French people. Scholarship and competitive 
examination were also the ideal of the most self-consciously bourgeois 
school of British thinkers, the Benthamite philosophic radicals, who 
eventually—but not before the end of our period—imposed it in an 
extremely pure form on the higher British Home and Indian Civil 
Service, against the bitter resistance of aristocracy. Selection by merit, 
as determined in examination or other educational tests, became the 
generally accepted ideal of all except the most archaic European public 
services (such as the Papal or the British Foreign), or the most demo¬ 
cratic, which tended—as in the USA—to prefer election to examination 
as a criterion of fitness for public posts. For, like other forms of indi¬ 
vidualist competition, examination-passing was a liberal, but not a 
democratic or egalitarian device. 

The chief social result of opening education to talent was thus 
paradoxical. It produced not the ‘open society’ of free business com¬ 
petition but the ‘closed society’ of bureaucracy; but both, in their 
various ways, were characteristic institutions of the bourgeois-liberal 
era. The ethos of the nineteenth-century higher civil services was 
fundamentally that of the eighteenth-century enlightenment: Masonic 
and ‘Josephinian’ in Central and Eastern Europe, Napoleonic in France, 
liberal and anti-clerical in the other Latin countries, Benthamite in 
Britain. Admittedly competition was transformed into automatic pro¬ 
motion once the man of merit had actually won his place in the service; 
though how fast and how far a man was promoted would still depend 
(in theory) on his merits, unless corporate egalitarianism imposed pure 
promotion by seniority. At first sight therefore bureaucracy looked 
very unlike the ideal of the liberal society. And yet, the public services 
were bound together by the consciousness of being selected by merit, 
by a prevailing atmosphere of incorruptibility, practical efficiency, and 
education, and by non-aristocratic origins. Even the rigid insistence 
on automatic promotion (which reached absurd length in that very 
middle-class organization, the British Navy) had at least the advantage 
of excluding the typically aristocratic or monarchical habit of favour- 


itism. In societies where economic development lagged, the public 
service therefore provided an alternative focus for the rising middle 
classes.* It is no accident that in the Frankfurt Parliament of 1848, 
68 per cent of all deputies were civil servants or other officials (as 
against only 12 per cent of the ‘free professions’ and 2 • 5 per cent of 
businessmen). 13 

It was thus fortunate for the intending careerist that the post- 
Napoleonic period was almost everywhere one of marked expansion 
in the apparatus and activity of governments, though hardly large 
enough to absorb the growing supply of literate citizens. Between 
1830 and 1850 public expenditure per capita increased by 25 per cent 
in Spain, by 40 per cent in France, by 44 per cent in Russia, by 
50 per cent in Belgium, by 70 per cent in Austria, 75 per cent 
in the USA and by over 90 per cent in the Netherlands. (Only in 
Britain, the British colonies, Scandinavia and a few backward states 
did government expenditure per head of the population remain stable 
or fall during this period, the heyday of economic liberalism.) 14 This 
was due not only to the obvious consumer of taxes, the armed forces, 
which remained much larger after the Napoleonic Wars than before, 
in spite of the absence of any major international wars: of the major 
states only Britain and France in 1851 had an army which was very 
much smaller than at the height of Napoleon’s power in 1810 and 
several—e.g. Russia, various German and Italian states and Spain— 
were actually larger. It was due also to the development of old and the 
acquisition of new functions by states. For it is an elementary error (and 
one not shared by those logical protagonists of capitalism, the Bentha¬ 
mite ‘philosophic radicals’) to believe that liberalism was hostile to 
bureaucracy. It was merely hostile to inefficient bureaucracy, to 
public interference in matters better left to private enterprise and to 
excessive taxation. The vulgar-liberal slogan of a state reduced to the 
vestigial functions of the nightwatchman obscures the fact that the 
state shorn of its inefficient and interfering functions was a much more 
powerful and ambitious state than before. For instance, by 1848 it was 
a state which had acquired modern, often national, police-forces: in 
France from 1798, in Ireland from 1823, in England from 1829, and 
in Spain (the Guardia Civil ) from 1844. Outside Britain it was normally 
a state which had a public educational system; outside Britain and the 
USA one which had or was about to have a public railway service; 
everywhere, one which had an increasingly large postal service to 
supply the rapidly expanding needs of business and private communi- 

* All fonctionnaircs in Balzac’s novels appear to come from, or to be associated with, familie 
of small entrepreneurs. 



cation. The growth of population obliged it to maintain a larger 
judicial system; the growth of cities and urban social problems a larger 
system of municipal administration. Whether the government functions 
were old or new, they were increasingly conducted by a single national 
civil service of fulltime career officials, the higher echelons of whom 
were freely transferred and promoted by central authority throughout 
each state. However, while an efficient service of this kind might well 
reduce the number of officials and the unit cost of administration by 
eliminating corruption and part-time service, it created a much more 
formidable government machine. The most elementary functions of 
the liberal state, such as the efficient assessment and collection of taxes 
by a body of salaried officials or the maintenance of a regular nationally 
organized rural constabulary, would have seemed beyond the wildest 
dreams of most pre-revolutionary absolutisms. So would the level of 
taxation, now actually sometimes a graduated income tax,* which the 
subject of the liberal state tolerated: in 1840 government expenditure 
in liberal Britain was four times as high as in autocratic Russia. 

Few of these new bureaucratic posts were really the equivalent of 
the officer’s epaulette which the proverbial Napoleonic soldier carried 
in his knapsack as a first instalment towards his eventual marshal’s 
baton. Of the 130,000 civil servants estimated for France in 1839 15 
the great bulk were postmen, teachers, lesser tax-collecting and legal 
officials and the like; and even the 450 officials of the Ministry of the 
Interior, the 350 of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, consisted mainly 
of clerks; a brand of humanity which, as the literature from Dickens 
to Gogol makes only too clear, was hardly to be envied except perhaps 
for the privilege of public service, the security which allowed them to 
starve at an even rhythm all their lives. Officials who were really the 
social equivalent of a good middle-class career—financially no honest 
official could ever hope for more than decent comfort—were few. 
Even today the ‘administrative class’ of the entire British civil service, 
which was devised by the mid-nineteenth-century reformers as the 
equivalent of the middle classes in the bureaucratic hierarchy, consists 
of no more than 3,500 persons in all. 

Yet, modest though the situation of the petty official or whitecollar 
worker was, it was a mountain-range above the labouring poor. He did 
no physical work. Clean hands and the white collar put him, however 
symbolically, on the side of the rich. He normally carried with him 
the magic of public authority. Before him men and women had to 
queue for the documents which registered their lives; he waved them 

* In Britain this was temporarily imposed during the Napoleonic Wars and permanently 
from 1842; no other country of importance had followed this lead before 1848. 



on or held them back; he told them what they could not do. In the 
more backward countries (as well as in the democratic USA) through 
him cousins and nephews might conceivably find jobs; in many not 
so backward countries he had to be bribed. For innumerable peasant 
or labouring families, for whom all other prospects of social ascent 
were dim, petty bureaucracy, teaching and the priesthood were at 
least theoretically within reach, Himalayas which their sons might 
conceivably climb. 

The free professions were hardly within their purview; for to become 
a doctor, a lawyer, a professor (which on the continent meant a 
secondary schoolmaster as well as a university teacher) or an ‘other 
educated person following miscellaneous pursuits’ 18 required long 
years of education or exceptional talent and opportunity. Britain in 
1851 contained some 16,000 lawyers (not counting judges) and a mere 
1700 law students;* some 17,000 physicians and surgeons and 
3,500 medical students and assistants, less than 3,000 architects, 
about 1,300 ‘editors and writers’. (The French term Journalist 
had not yet entered official cognisance.) Law and medicine were two 
of the great traditional professions. The third, the clergy, provided less 
of an opening than might have been expected if only because (except 
for the preachers of protestant sects) it was probably expanding rather 
more slowly than population. Indeed, thanks to the anti-clerical zeal 
of governments—Joseph II suppressed 359 abbeys and convents, the 
Spaniards in their liberal intervals did their best to suppress them all— 
certain parts of the profession were contracting rather than 

Only one real opening existed: elementary school teaching by laymen 
and religious. The numbers of the teaching profession, which was in 
the main recruited from the sons of peasants, artisans, and other modest 
families, were by no means negligible in western states: in Britain some 
76,000 men and women in 1851 described themselves as schoolmasters/ 
mistresses or general teachers, not to mention the 20,000 or so gover¬ 
nesses, the well-known last resource of penniless educated girls unable 
or unwilling to earn their living in less, respectable ways. Moreover, 
teaching was not merely a large but an expanding profession. It was 
poorly paid; but outside the most philistine countries such as Britain 
and the USA, the elementary school teacher was a rightly popular 
figure. For if anyone represented the ideal of an age when for the first 
time common men and women looked above their heads and saw that 
ignorance could be dissipated, it was surely the man or the woman 
whose life and calling was to give children the opportunities which 

* On the continent the number and proportion of lawyers was often greater. 



their parents had never had; to open the world to them; to imbue 
them with truth and morality. 

Business, of course, was the most obvious career open to talent, and 
in a rapidly expanding economy business opportunities were naturally 
great. The small-scale nature of much enterprise, the prevalence of 
sub-contract, of modest buying and selling, made them relatively easy 
to take. Yet neither the material nor the social and cultural conditions 
were propitious for the poor. In the first place—a fact frequently over¬ 
looked by the successful—the evolution of the industrial economy 
depended on creating wage-labourers faster than employers or the 
self-employed. For every man who moved up into the business classes, 
a greater number necessarily moved down. In the second place 
economic independence required technical qualifications, attitudes of 
mind, or financial resources (however modest) which were simply not 
in the possession of most men and women. Those who were lucky 
enough to possess them—for instance, members of religious minorities 
and sects, whose aptitude for such activities is well-known to the 
sociologist—might do well: the majority of those serfs of Ivanovo—the 
‘Russian Manchester 1 —who became textile manufacturers, belonged 
to the sect of the ‘Old Believers’. 17 But it would have been entirely 
unrealistic to expect those who did not possess these advantages—for 
instance the majority of Russian peasants—to do the same, or even at 
this stage to think of emulating them. 


No groups of the population welcomed the opening of the career to 
talent to whatever kind more passionately than those minorities who 
had hitherto been debarred from eminence not merely because they 
were not well-born, but because they suffered official and collective 
discrimination. The enthusiasm with which French protestants threw 
themselves into public life in and after the Revolution was exceeded 
only by the volcanic eruption of talent among the western Jews. 
Before the emancipation which eighteenth-century rationalism prepared 
and the French Revolution brought, only two roads to eminence 
were available to a Jew, commerce or finance and the interpretation 
of the sacred law; and both confined him to his own narrowly segregated 
ghetto community, from which only a handful of ‘court Jews’ or other 
men of wealth half-emerged, careful—even in Britain and Holland— 
not to step too far into the dangerous and unpopular light of celebrity. 
Nor was such emergence unpopular only among the brutal and 



drunken unbelievers who, on the whole, signally failed to welcome 
Jewish emancipation. Centuries of social compression had closed the 
ghetto in upon itself, rejecting any step outside its tight orthodoxies as 
unbelief and treason. The eighteenth-century pioneers ofje wish liberali¬ 
zation in Germany and Austria, notably Moses Mendelssohn 
(1729-1786), were reviled as deserters and atheists. 

The great bulk of Judaism, which inhabited the rapidly growing 
ghettoes in the eastern part of the old kingdom of Poland and Lithuania, 
continued to live their self-contained and suspicious lives among the 
hostile peasantry, divided only in their allegiance between the learned 
intellectualist rabbis of the Lithuanian orthodoxy and the ecstatic and 
poverty-striken Chassidim. It is characteristic that of forty-six Galician 
revolutionaries arrested by the Austrian authorities in 1834 only one 
was a Jew. 18 But in the smaller communities of the west the Jews seized 
their new opportunities with both hands, even when the price they had 
to pay for them was a nominal baptism, as in semi-emancipated 
countries it often still was, at any rate for official posts. The businessman 
did not even require this. The Rothschilds, kings of international Jewry, 
were not only rich. This they could also have been earlier, though the 
political and military changes of the period provided unprecedented 
opportunities for international finance. They could also now be seen to be 
rich, occupy a social position roughly commensurate to their wealth, 
and even aspire to the nobility which European princes actually began 
to grant them in 1816. (They became hereditary Habsburg barons 
in 1823.) 

More striking than Jewish wealth was the flowering of Jewish talent 
in the secular arts, sciences and professions. By twentieth century 
standards it was as yet modest, though by 1848 the greatest Jewish 
mind of the nineteenth century and the most successful Jewish politician 
had both reached maturity: Karl Marx (1818-1883) an d Benjamin 
Disraeli (1804-1881). There were no major Jewish scientists and only 
a few Jewish mathematicians of high but not supreme eminence. 
Meyerbeer (1791-1864) and Mendelssohn-Bartholdy (1809-1847) are 
not composers of the highest contemporary class, though among poets 
Heinrich Heine (1797-1856) survives rather better. There was as yet 
no Jewish painters of importance, no great Jewish executant musicians 
or conductors, and only one major theatrical figure, the actress Rachel 
(1821-1858). But in fact the production of genius is not the criterion of 
a people’s emancipation, which is measured rather by the sudden 
abundance of less eminent Jewish participants in West European culture 
and public life, especially in France and above all in the German states, 
which provided the language and ideology that gradually bridged the 



gap between medievalism and the nineteenth century for the immigrant 
Jews from the hinterland. 

The dual revolution had given the Jews the nearest thing to equality 
they had ever enjoyed under Christianity. Those who seized their 
opportunity wished for nothing better than to ‘assimilate’ to the new 
society, and their sympathies were, for obvious reasons, overwhelmingly 
liberal. Yet the situation of the Jews was uncertain and uneasy, even 
though the endemic anti-semitism of the exploited masses, which could 
now often readily identify Jew and ‘bourgeois’,* was not seriously 
exploited by demagogic politicians. In France and Western Germany 
(but not yet elsewhere), some young Jews found themselves dreaming 
of an even more perfect society: there was a marked Jewish element in 
French Saint-Simonianism (Olinde Rodrigues, the brothers Pereire, 
Ldon Halevy, d’Eichthal) and to a lesser extent in German communism 
(Moses Hess, the poet Heine, and of course Marx who, however, 
showed a total indifference to his Jewish origins and connections). 

The situation of the Jews made them exceptionally ready to assimi¬ 
late to bourgeois society. They were a minority. They were already 
overwhelmingly urban, to the point of being largely immunized against 
the diseases of urbanization. In the cities their lower mortality and 
morbidity was already noted by the statisticians. They were over¬ 
whelmingly literate and outside agriculture. A very large proportion 
of them were already in commerce or the professions. Their very 
position constantly obliged them to consider new situations and ideas, 
if only to detect the latent threat which they held. The great mass of 
the world’s peoples, on the other hand, found it much harder to adjust 
to the new society. 

This was partly because the rock-ribbed armour of custom made it 
almost impossible for them to understand what they were expected to 
do in it; like the young Algerian gentlemen, transported to Paris to 
gain a European education in the 1840s, who were shocked at the 
discovery that they had been invited to the royal capital for anything 
but the social commerce with king and nobility, which they knew to 
be their due. Moreover, the new society did not make adjustment easy. 
Those who accepted the evident blessings of middle class civilization 
and middle class manners could enjoy its benefits freely; those who 
refused or were unable to, simply did not count. There was more than 
mere political bias in the insistence on a property franchise which 
characterized the moderate liberal governments of 1830; the man who 

♦The German brigand Schinderhannes (Johannes Bueckler 1777-1803) gained much 
popularity by concentrating on Jewish victims, and in Prague industrial unrest in the 1840s 
also took on an anti-Jewish note. (Vienna, Verwaltungsarchiv, Polizeihofstelle 1186-1845.) 



had not shown the ability to accumulate property was not a full man, 
and could therefore hardly be a full citizen. The extremes of this 
attitude occurred where the European middle class came into contact 
with the unbelieving heathen, seeking to convert him through intellec¬ 
tually unsophisticated missionaries to the truths of Christianity, 
commerce and the wearing of trousers (between which no sharp 
distinctions were drawn), or imposing on him the truths of liberal 
legislation. If he accepted these, liberalism (at all events among the 
revolutionary French) was perfectly prepared to grant him full citizen¬ 
ship with all its rights, or the hope of being one day almost as good as 
an Englishman, as among the British. The attitude is perfecdy reflected 
in the senatus-consulte of Napoleon III which, a few years after the end 
of our period but well within its spirit, opened citizenship to the native 
Algerian: 'll pent, sur sa demande, itre admis d jouir des droits de citoyen 
frangais; dans ce cas il est rigi par les lois civiles et politiques de la France .’ u 
All he had to give up, in effect, was Islam; if he did not want to do 
so—and few did—then he remained a subject and not a citizen. 

The massive contempt of the ‘civilized’ for the ‘barbarians’ (who 
included the bulk of labouring poor at home) 20 rested on this feeling 
of demonstrated superiority. The middle-class world was freely open 
to all. Those who failed to enter its gates therefore demonstrated a lack 
of personal intelligence, moral force or energy which automatically 
condemned them; or at best a historic or racial heritage which must 
permanently cripple them, or else they would already have made use 
of their Opportunities. The period which culminated about the middle 
of the century was therefore one of unexampled callousness, not merely 
because the poverty which surrounded middle class respectability was 
so shocking that the native rich learned not to see it, leaving its horrors 
to make their full impact only on visiting foreigners (as the horrors of 
Indian slums today do), but because the poor, like the outer barbarians, 
were talked of as though they were not properly human at all. If their 
fate was to become industrial labourers, they were merely a mass to be 
forced into the proper disciplinary mould by sheer coercion, the draconic 
factory discipline being supplemented by the aid of the state. (It is 
characteristic that contemporary middle class opinion saw no incom¬ 
patibility between the principle of equality before the law and the 
deliberately discriminatory labour codes, which, as in the British 
Master and Servant code of 1823, punished the workers by prison for 
breaches of contract and the employers merely by modest fines, if at 
all.) 21 They ought to be constantly on the verge of starvation, because 
otherwise they would not work, being inaccessible to ‘human’ motives. 
‘It is to the interest of the worker himself,’ Villerme was told in the late 


1830s by employers ‘that he should be constantly harassed by need, 
for then he will not set his children a bad example, and his poverty 
will be a guarantee of good behaviour.’ 28 There were nevertheless too 
many poor for their own good, but it was to be hoped that the opera¬ 
tions of Malthus’ law would starve off enough of them to establish a 
viable maximum; unless of course per absurdum the poor established 
their own rational checks on population by refraining from an excessive 
indulgence in procreation. 

It was but a small step from such an attitude to the formal recog¬ 
nition of inequality which, as Henri Baudrillart argued in his inaugural 
lecture at the College de France in 1853, was one of the three pillars 
of human society, the other two being property and inheritance. 28 The 
hierarchical society was thus reconstructed on the foundations of 
formal equality. It had merely lost what made it tolerable in the old 
days, the general social conviction that men had duties and rights, 
that virtue was not simply the equivalent of money, and that the lower 
order, though low, had a right to their modest lives in the station to 
which God had called them. 




Every manufacturer lives in his factory like the colonial planters in the midst of 
their slaves, one against a hundredand the subversion of Lyon is a sort of insurrection 
of San Domingo. . . . The barbarians who menace society are neither in the Caucasus 
nor in the steppes of Tartary; they are in the suburbs of our industrial cities. . . . 
The middle class must clearly recognize the nature of the situation; it must know 
where it stands. 

Saint-Marc Girardin in Journal des Dibats, December 8, 1931 
Pour gowemer il faut avoir 
Manteaux ou rubans en sautoir (bis). 

Nous en tissons pour vous, grands de la terre, 

Et nous, pauvres canuts, sans drop on nous enterre. 

(Test nous les canuts 
Nous sommes tout nus (bis). 

Mais quand notre rtgne arrive 
Quand votre rtgne finira. 

Alors nous tisserons le linceul du vieux monde 
Car on entend dijd la revolte qui gronde. 

C f est nous les canuts 
Nous n’irons plus tout nus. 

Lyons silkweavers* song 


Three possibilities were therefore open to such of the poor as 
found themselves in the path of bourgeois society, and no longer 
effectively sheltered in still inaccessible regions of traditional society. 
They could strive to become bourgeois; they could allow themselves to 
be ground down; or they could rebel. 

The first course, as we have seen, was not merely technically difficult 
for those who lacked the minimum entrance fee of property or educa¬ 
tion, but profoundly distasteful. The introduction of a purely utili¬ 
tarian individualist system of social behaviour, the theoretically justi¬ 
fied jungle anarchy of bourgeois society with its motto ‘every man for 
himself and the devil take the hindmost’, appeared to men brought up 
in traditional societies as little better than wanton evil. ‘In our times,’ 
said one of the desperate Silesian handloom linen-weavers who rioted 



vainly against their fate in 1844, 1 ‘men have invented excellent arts to 
weaken and undermine one another’s livelihood. But alas, nobody 
thinks any longer of the Seventh Commandment, which commands 
and forbids as follows: Thou shalt not steal. Nor do they bear in mind 
Luther’s commentary upon it, in which he says: We shall love and fear 
the Lord, so that we may not take away our neighbour’s property nor 
money, nor acquire it by false goods and trading, but on the contrary 
we should help him guard and increase his livelihood and property.’ 
Such a man spoke for all who found themselves dragged into an abyss 
by what were plainly the forces of hell. They did not ask for much. 
(‘The rich used to treat the poor with charity, and the poor lived simply, 
for in those days the lower orders needed much less for outward show in 
clothes and other expenses than they do today.’) But even that modest 
place in the social order was now, it seemed, to be taken from them. 

Hence their resistance against even the most rational proposals of 
bourgeois society, married as they were to inhumanity. Country squires 
introduced and labourers clung to the Speenhamland system, though 
the economic arguments against it were conclusive. As a means of 
alleviating poverty, Christian charity was worse than useless, as could 
be seen in the Papal states, which abounded in it. But it was popular 
not only among the traditionalist rich, who cherished it as a safeguard 
against the evil of equal rights (proposed by ‘those dreamers who 
maintain that nature has created men with equal rights and that social 
distinctions should be founded purely on communal utility’ 2 ) but also 
among the traditionalist poor, who were profoundly convinced that they 
had a right to crumbs from the rich man’s table. In Britain a chasm 
divided the middle class champions of Friendly Societies, who saw them 
entirely as a form of individual self-help and the poor, who treated 
them also, and often primarily, as societies, with convivial meetings, 
ceremonies, rituals and festivities; to the detriment of their actuarial 

That resistance was only strengthened by the opposition of even the 
bourgeois to such aspects of pure individual free competition as did not 
actually benefit him. Nobody was more devoted to individualism than 
the sturdy American farmer and manufacturer, no Constitution more 
opposed than theirs—or so their lawyers believed until our own century 
—to such interferences with freedom as federal child labour legis¬ 
lation. But nobody was more firmly committed, as we have seen, to 
‘artificial’ protection for their businesses. New machinery was one of 
the chief benefits to be expected from private enterprise and free com¬ 
petition. But not only the labouring Luddites arose to smash it: the 
smaller businessmen and farmers in their regions sympathized with 



them, because they also regarded innovators as destroyers of men’s 
livelihood. Farmers actually sometimes left their machines out for 
rioters to destroy, and the government had to send a sharply worded 
circular in 1830 to point out that ‘machines are as entitled to the pro¬ 
tection of the law as any other description of property’. 8 The very 
hesitation and doubt with which, outside the strongholds of bourgeois- 
liberal confidence, the new entrepreneur entered upon his historic task 
of destroying the social and moral order, strengthened the poor man’s 

There were of course labouring men who did their best to join the 
middle classes, or at least to follow the precepts of thrift, self-help and 
self-betterment. The moral and didactic literature of middle class 
radicalism, temperance movements and protestant endeavour is full 
of the sort of men whose Homer was Samuel Smiles. And indeed such 
bodies attracted and perhaps encouraged the ambitious young man. 
The Royton Temperance Seminary, started in 1843 (confined to boys 
—mostly- cotton operatives—who had taken the pledge of abstinence, 
refused to gamble and were of good moral character), had within twenty 
years produced five master cotton spinners, one clergyman, two man¬ 
agers of cotton mills in Russia ‘and many others had obtained respect¬ 
able positions as managers, overlookers, head mechanics, certified 
schoolmasters, or had become respectable shopkeepers’. 4 Clearly such 
phenomena were less common outside the Anglo-Saxon world, where 
the road out of the working class (except by migration) was very much 
narrower—it was not exceptionally broad even in Britain—and the 
moral and intellectual influence of the Radical middle class on the 
skilled worker was less. 

On the other hand there were clearly far more who, faced with a 
social catastrophe they did not understand, impoverished, exploited, 
herded intotslums that combined bleakness and squalor, or into the 
expanding complexes of small-scale industrial villages, sank into 
demoralization. Deprived of the traditional institutions and guides to 
behaviour, how could many fail to sink into an abyss of hand-to-mouth 
expedients, where families pawned their blankets each week until 
pay-day* and where alcohol was ‘the quickest way out of Manchester’ 
(or Lille or the Borinage). Mass alcoholism, an almost invariable com¬ 
panion of headlong and uncontrolled industrialization and urbaniza¬ 
tion, spread ‘a pestilence of hard liquor’ 5 across Europe. Perhaps the 
numerous contemporaries who deplored the growth of drunkenness, 
as of prostitution and other forms of sexual promiscuity, were exag- 

*In 1855 60 per cent of all pledges with Liverpool pawnbrokers were y. or less in value, 
37 per cent 2 s. 6 d. or less. 



gerating. Nevertheless, the sudden upsurge of systematic temperance 
agitations, both of a middle and working class character, in England, 
Ireland and Germany around 1840, shows that the worry about 
demoralization was neither academic nor confined to any single class. 
Its immediate success was shortlived, but for the rest of the century 
the hostility to hard liquor remained something which both enlightened 
employers and labour movements had in common.* 

But of course the contemporaries who deplored the demoralization 
of the new urban and industrialized poor were not exaggerating. 
Everything combined to maximize it. Towns and industrial areas grew 
rapidly, without plan or supervision, and the most elementary services 
of city life utterly failed to keep pace with it: street-cleaning, water- 
supply, sanitation, not to mention working-class housing.* The most 
obvious consequence of this urban deterioration was the re-appearance 
of mass epidemics of contagious (mainly waterborne) disease, notably 
of the cholera, which reconquered Europe from 1831 and swept the 
continent from Marseilles to St Petersburg in 1832 and again later. 
To take a single example: typhus in Glasgow ‘did not arrest attention 
by any epidemic prevalence until 1818’. 7 Thereafter it increased. 
There were two major epidemics (typhus and cholera) in the city in 
the 1830s, three (typhus, cholera and relapsing fever) in the 1840s, 
two in the first half of the 1850s, until urban improvement caught up 
with a generation of neglect. The terrible effects of this neglect were all 
the greater, because the middle and ruling-classes did not feel it. 
Urban development in our period was a gigantic process of class 
segregation, which pushed the new labouring poor into great morasses 
of misery outside the centres of government and business and the newly 
specialized residential areas of the bourgeoisie. The almost universal 
European division into a ‘good’ west end and a ‘poor’ east end of large 
cities developed in this period.f And what social institutions except the 
tavern and perhaps the chapel were provided in these new labourers’ 
agglomerations except by the labourers’ own initiative? Only after 
1848, when the new epidemics sprung from the slums began to kill the 
rich also, and the desperate masses who grew up in them had frightened 

* This is not true of hostility to beer, wine or other drinks forming part of men’s habitual 
everyday diet. This was largely confined to Anglo-Saxon protestant sectarians. 

t ‘The circumstances which oblige the workers to move out of the centre of Paris have 
generally, it is pointed out, had deplorable effects on their behaviour and morality. In the 
old days they used to live on the higher floors of buildings whose lower floors were occupied 
by businessmen and other members of the relatively comfortable classes. A sort of solidarity 
grew up between the tenants of a single building. Neighbours helped each other in little 
ways. When sick or unemployed the workers might find much assistance within the house, 
while on the other hand a sort of feeling of human respect imbued working-class habits with 
a certain regularity.’ The complacency is that of the Chamber of Commerce and the Police 
Prefecture from whose Report this is quoted; but the novelty of segregation is well brought 



the powers-that-be by social revolution, was systematic urban rebuild¬ 
ing and improvement undertaken. 

Drink was not the only sign of this demoralization. Infanticide, 
prostitution, suicide, and mental derangement have all been brought 
into relation with this social and economic cataclysm, thanks largely 
to the contemporary pioneering work of what we would today call 
social medicine.* And so has both the increase in crime and that 
growing and often purposeless violence which was a sort of blind 
personal assertion against the forces threatening to engulf the passive. 
The spread of apocalyptic, mystical or other sects and cults in this 
period (cf. chapter 12) indicates a similar incapacity to deal with the 
earthquakes of society which were breaking down men’s lives. The 
cholera epidemics, for instance, provoked religious revivals in Catholic 
Marseilles as well as in Protestant Wales. 

All these forms of distortions of social behaviour had one thing in 
common with one another, and incidentally with ‘self-help’. They were 
attempts to escape the fate of being a poor labouring man, or at best to 
accept or forget poverty and humiliation. The believer in the second 
coming, the drunkard, the petty gangster, the lunatic, the tramp or the 
ambitious small entrepreneur, all averted their eyes from the collective 
condition and (with the exception of the last) were apathetic about the 
capacity of collective action. In the history of our period this massive 
apathy plays a much larger part than is often supposed. It is no accident 
that the least skilled, least educated, least organized and therefore least 
hopeful of the poor, then as later, were the most apathetic: at the 1848 
elections in the Prussian town of Halle 81 per cent of the independent 
crafts masters and 71 per cent of the masons, carpenters and other 
skilled builders voted; but only 46 per cent of the factory and railway 
workers, the labourers, the domestic workers, etc.® 


The alternative to escape or defeat was rebellion. And such was the 
situation of the labouring poor, and especially the industrial prole¬ 
tariat which became their nucleus, that rebellion was not merely 
possible, but virtually compulsory. Nothing was more inevitable in the 
first half of the nineteenth century than the appearance of labour and 
socialist movements, and indeed of mass social revolutionary unrest. 
The revolution of 1848 was its direct consequence. 

* The long list of doctors to whom we owe so much of our knowledge of the times—and 
of subsequent improvement—contrast vividly with the general complacency and hardness of 
bourgeois opinion. Villerm6 and the contributors to the Annales iTHygiine Publique, which he 
founded in 1829, Kay, Thackrah, Simon, Gaskell and Farr in Britain, and several in Germany, 
deserve to be remembered more widely than in fact they are. 



That the condition of the labouring poor was appalling between 
1815 and 1848 was not denied by any reasonable observer, and by 1840 
there were a good many of these. That it was a'ctually deteriorating 
was widely assumed. In Britain the Malthusian population theory, 
which held that the growth of population must inevitably outrun that 
of the means of subsistence, was based on such an assumption, and 
reinforced by the arguments of Ricardian economists. Those who took 
a rosier view of working-class prospects were less numerous and less 
talented than those who took the gloomy view. In Germany in the 
1830s the increasing pauperization of the people was the specific subject 
of at least fourteen different publications, and the question whether ‘the 
complaints about increasing pauperization and food shortage’ were 
justified was set for academic prize essays. (Ten of sixteen competitors 
thought they were and only two that they were not.) 10 The very 
prevalence of such opinions is itself evidence of the universal and 
apparently hopeless misery of the poor. 

No doubt actual poverty was worst in the countryside, and especially 
among landless wage-labourers, rural domestic workers, and, of course, 
land-poor peasants, or those who lived on infertile land. A bad harvest, 
such as in 1789, 1795, 1817, 1832, 1847, still brought actual famine, 
even without the intervention of additional catastrophes such as the 
competition of British cotton goods, which destroyed the foundation of 
the Silesian cottage linen industry. After the ruined crop of 1813 in 
Lombardy many kept alive only by eating manure and hay, bread 
made from the leaves of bean plants and wild berries. 11 A bad year such 
as 1817 could, even in tranquil Switzerland, produce an actual excess 
of deaths over births. 12 The European hunger of 1846-8 pales beside 
the cataclysm of the Irish famine (cf. above pp. 165-6), but it was 
real enough. In East and West Prussia (1847) one-third of the popula¬ 
tion had ceased to eat bread, and relied only on potatoes. 13 In the 
austere, respectable, pauperized manufacturing villages of the middle 
German mountains, where men and women sat on logs and benches, 
owned few curtains or house-linen, and drank from earthenware or tin 
mugs for want of glass, the population had sometimes become so used 
to a diet of potatoes and thin coffee, that during famine-times the 
relief-workers had to teach it to eat the peas and porridge they supplied. 14 
Hunger-typhus ravaged the countrysides of Flanders and Silesia, where 
the village linen-weaver fought his doomed battle against modern 

But in fact the misery—the increasing misery as so many thought— 
which attracted most attention, short of total catastrophe such as the 
Irish, was that of the cities and industrial areas where the poor starved 



less passively and less unseen. Whether their real incomes fell is still a 
matter of historical debate, though, as we have seen, there can be no 
doubt that the general situation of the poor in cities deteriorated. 
Variations between one region and another, between different types 
of workers and between different economic periods, as well as the 
deficiency of statistics, make such questions difficult to answer deci¬ 
sively, though any significant absolute general improvement can be 
excluded before 1848 (or in Britain perhaps 1844), and the gap between 
the rich and the poor certainly grew wider and more visible. The time 
when Baroness Rothschild wore one and a half million francs worth of 
jewellery at the Duke of Orleans’ masked ball (1842) was the time 
when John Bright described the women of Rochdale: ‘2,000 women 
and girls passed through the streets singing hymns—it was a very 
singular and striking spectacle—approaching the sublime—they are 
dreadfully hungry—a loaf is devoured with greediness indescribable 
and if the bread is nearly covered with mud it is eagerly devoured’. 15 

It is in fact probable that there was some general deterioration over 
wide areas of Europe, for not only (as we have seen) urban institutions 
and social services failed to keep pace with headlong and unplanned 
expansion, and money (and often real) wages tended to fall after 1815, 
the production and transport of foodstuffs probably also fell behind in 
many large cities until the railway age. 15 It was on lags such as this 
that the contemporary Malthusians based their pessimism. But quite 
apart from such a lag, the mere change from the traditional diet of the 
pre-industrial man to the ignorant as well as impoverished free purchase 
of the urbanized and industrial one was likely to lead to worse feeding, 
just as the conditions of urban life and work were likely to lead to worse 
health. The extraordinary difference in health and physical fitness 
between the industrial and agricultural population (and of course 
between the upper, middle and working classes), on which the French 
and English statisticians fixed their attention, was clearly due to this. 
The average expectation of life at birth in the 1840s was twice as high 
for the labourers of rural Wiltshire and Rudand (hardly a pampered 
class) than for those of Manchester or Liverpool. But then—to take 
merely one example—‘till steam-power was introduced into the trade, 
towards the end of the last century, the grinder’s disease was scarcely 
known in the Sheffield cudery trades’. But in 1842 50 per cent of all 
razor-grinders in their thirties, 79 per cent of all in their forties, and 
100 per cent of all razor-grinders over the age of fifty retched out their 
lungs with it. 17 

Moreover, the change in the economy shifted and displaced vast 
strata of labourers, sometimes to their benefit, but more often to their 



sorrow. Great masses of the population remained as yet unabsorbed by 
the new industries or cities as a permanent substratum of the pau¬ 
perized and helpless, and even great masses were periodically hurled 
into unemployment by crises which were barely yet recognized as 
being temporary as well as recurrent. Two-thirds of the textile workers 
in Bolton (1842) or Roubaix (1847) would be thrown totally out of 
work by such a slump. 18 Twenty per cent of Nottingham, one-third of 
Paisley might be actually destitute. 1 * A movement like Chartism in 
Britain would collapse, time and again, under its political weakness. 
Time and again sheer hunger—the intolerable burden which rested 
on millions of the labouring poor—would revive it. 

In addition to these general storms, special catastrophes burst over 
the heads of particular kinds of the labouring poor. The initial phase of 
industrial revolution did not, as we have seen, push all labourers into 
mechanized factories. On the contrary, round the few mechanized and 
large-scale sectors of production, it multiplied the numbers of pre¬ 
industrial artisans, of certain types of skilled workers, and of the army 
of domestic and cottage labour, and often improved their condition, 
especially during the long yean of labour shortage in the wars. In the 
1820s and 1830s the iron and impersonal advance of machine and 
market began to throw them aside. At its mildest this turned inde¬ 
pendent men into dependent ones, persons into mere ‘hands’. At its 
frequent harshest, it produced those multitudes of the declassed, the 
pauperized and the famished—handloom weavers, framework knitters 
etc.—whose condition froze the blood of even the most flinty economist. 
These were not unskilled and igorant riff-raff. Such communities as 
those of the Norwich and the Dunfermline weavers which were broken 
and scattered in the 1830s, the London furniture-makers whose old- 
established negotiated ‘price-lists’ became scraps of paper as they sank 
into the morass of sweatshops, the continental journeymen who became 
itinerant proletarians, the artisans who lost their independence: these 
had been the most skilled, the most educated, the most self-reliant, the 
flower of the labouring people.* They did not know what was happen¬ 
ing to them. It was natural that they should seek to find out, even more 
natural that they should protest.f 

* Of 195 Gloucestershire adult weavers in 1840 only fifteen could neither read nor write,* 
but of the rioters arrested in the manufacturing areas of Lancashire, Cheshire and Stafford¬ 
shire in 184a only 13 per cent could read and write well, 32 per cent imperfectly. 1 * 0 

t 'About one-third of our working population . . . consists of weavers and labourers, 
whose average earnings do not amount to a sum sufficient to bring up and maintain their 
families without parochial assistance. It is this portion of the community, for the most part 
decent and respectable in their lives, which is suffering most from the depression of wages, 
and the hardships of the times. It is to this claw of my poor fellow-creatures in particular, 
that I desire to recommend the system of co-operation.’ (F. Baker, First Lecture on Co-operation , 
Bolton 1830.) 



Materially the new factory proletariat was likely to be somewhat 
better off. On the other hand it was unfree; under the strict control 
and the even stricter discipline imposed by the master or his super¬ 
visors, against whom they had virtually no legal recourse and only the 
very beginnings of public protection. They had to work his hours or 
shifts; to accept his punishments and the fines with which he imposed 
his rules or increased his profits. In isolated areas or industries they had 
to buy in his shop, as often as not receiving their wages in truck (thus 
allowing the unscrupulous employer to swell his profits yet further), or 
live in the houses the master provided. No doubt the village boy might 
find such a life no more dependent and less impoverished than his 
parents’; and in continental industries with a strong paternalist tradi¬ 
tion, the despotism of the master was at least pardy balanced by the 
security, education and welfare services which he sometimes provided. 
But for the free man entry into the factory as a mere ‘hand’ was entry 
into something little better than slavery, and all but the most famished 
tended to avoid it, and even when in it to resist the draconic discipline 
much more persistently than the women and children, whom factory 
owners therefore tended to prefer. And, of course, in the 1830s and 
part of the 1840s even the material situation of the factory proletariat 
tended to deteriorate. 

Whatever the actual situation of the labouring poor, there can be 
absolutely no doubt that every one of them who thought at all— 
i.e. who did not accept the tribulations of the poor as part of fate and 
the eternal design of things—considered the labourer to be exploited 
and impoverished by the rich, who were getting richer while the poor 
became poorer. And the poor suffered because the rich benefited. The 
social mechanism of bourgeois society was in the profoundest manner 
cruel, unjust and inhuman. ‘There can be no wealth without labour’ 
wrote the Lancashire Co-operator. ‘The workman is the source of all 
wealth. Who has raised all the food? The half-fed and impoverished 
labourer. Who built all the houses and warehouses, and palaces, which 
are possessed by the rich, who never labour or produce anything? 
The workman. Who spins all the yam and makes all the cloth? The 
spinner and weaver.’ Yet ‘the labourer remains poor and destitute, 
while those who do not work are rich, and possess abundance to 
surfeiting 1 . 20 And the despairing rural labourer (echoed literally even 
today by the Negro gospel-singer) put it less clearly, but perhaps even 
more profoundly: 

If life was a thing that money could buy 

The rich would live and the poor might die. 41 




The labour movement provided an answer to the poor man’s cry. It 
must not be confused with the mere collective revulsion against intoler¬ 
able hardship, which occurs throughout recorded history, or even with 
the practice of striking and other forms of militancy which have since 
become characteristic of labour. These also have a history which goes 
back beyond the industrial revolution. What was new in the labour 
movement of the early nineteenth century was class consciousness and 
class ambition. The ‘poor’ no longer faced the ‘rich’. A specific class, 
the labouring class, workers, or proletariat, faced another, the employers 
or capitalists. The French Revolution gave this new class confidence, 
the industrial revolution impressed on it the need for permanent 
mobilization. A decent livelihood could not be achieved merely by 
the occasional protest which served to restore the stable but tempor¬ 
arily disturbed balance of society. It required the eternal vigilance, 
organization and activity of the ‘movement’—the trade union, the 
mutual or co-operative society, the working-class institute, newspaper 
or agitation. But the very novelty and rapidity of the social change 
which engulfed them encouraged the labourers to think in terms of an 
entirely changed society, based on their experience and ideas as 
opposed to their oppressors’. It would be co-operative and not com¬ 
petitive, collectivist and not individualist. It would be ‘socialist’. And 
it would represent not the eternal dream of the free society, which poor 
men always have at the backs of their minds but think about only on 
the rare occasions of general social revolution, but a permanent, 
practicable alternative to the present system. 

Working-class consciousness in this sense did not yet exist in 1789, 
or indeed during the French Revolution. Outside Britain and France it 
existed barely if at all even in 1848. But in the two countries which 
embody the dual revolution, it certainly came into existence between 
1815 and 1848, more especially around 1830. The very word‘working- 
class’ (as distinct from the less specific ‘the working classes’) occurs in 
English labour writings shortly after Waterloo, and perhaps even 
earlier, and in French working-class writing the equivalent phrase 
becomes frequent after 1830. 22 In Britain the attempts to link all 
labouring men together in ‘general trades’ unions’, i.e. to break through 
the sectional and local isolation of particular groups of workers to the 
national, perhaps even the universal solidarity of the labouring class, 
began in 1818 and were pursued with feverish intensity between 1829 
and 1834. The pendant to the ‘general union’ was the general strike; 
and this too was formulated as a concept and a systematic tactic of the 



working class at this period, notably in William Benbow’s Grand 
National Holiday, and Congress of the Productive Classes (1832), and was 
seriously discussed as a political method by the Chartists. Meanwhile, 
in both Britain and France intellectual discussion had produced both 
the concept and the word ‘socialism’ in the 1820s. It was immediately 
adopted by the workers, on a small scale in France (as by the Paris 
gilders of 1832) and on a much vaster scale by the British, who were 
soon to push Robert Owen into the leadership of a vast mass movement, 
for which he was singularly ill-suited. In brief, by the early 1830s 
proletarian class consciousness and social aspirations already existed. 
They were almost certainly feebler and much less effective than the 
middle class consciousness which their employers were acquiring or 
displaying at about the same time. But they were present. 

Proletarian consciousness was powerfully combined with, and rein¬ 
forced by, what may best be called Jacobin consciousness—the set of 
aspirations, experiences, methods and moral attitudes with which the 
French (and also before it the American) Revolution had imbued the 
thinking and confident poor. Just as the practical expression of the 
situation of the new working class was ‘the labour movement’ and its 
ideology ‘the co-operative commonwealth’, so that of the common 
people, proletarian or otherwise, whom the French Revolution pushed 
on to the stage of history as actors rather than merely as sufferers, was 
the democratic movement. ‘Citizens of poor outward appearance and 
who in former times would not have dared show themselves in these 
places reserved for more elegant company, were going for walks along 
with the rich and holding their heads as high.’ 28 They wanted respect, 
recognition and equality. They knew they could achieve it, for in 
1793-4 they had done so. Not all such citizens were workers, but all 
conscious workers belonged to their sort. 

Proletarian and Jacobin consciousness supplemented each other. 
Working-class experience gave the labouring poor the major institu¬ 
tions of everyday self-defence, the trade union and mutual aid society, 
and the major weapons of such collective struggle, solidarity and the 
strike (which in turn implied organization and discipline).* However, 
even where these were not as feeble, unstable and localized as they 
still usually were on the continent, their scope was strictly limited. 
The attempt to use a purely trade unionist or mutualist model not 
merely to win higher wages for organized sections of the workers, but 
to defeat the entire existing society and establish a new one, was made 

* The strike is so spontaneous and logical a consequence of working-class existence that 
most European languages have quite independent native words for it (e.g. grcve, huelga, 
sciopero, zabastovka), whereas words for other institutions are often borrowed. 



in Britain between 1829 and 1834, and again partly under Chartism. 
It failed, and this failure wrecked a remarkably mature and early 
proletarian socialist movement for a half-century. The attempts to turn 
trade unions into national unions of co-operative producers (as in the 
Operative Builders’ Union with its ‘builders’ parliament’ and ‘builders’ 
guild’—1831-4) failed, and so did the attempt to set up national 
co-operative production and ‘equitable labour exchanges’ in other 
ways. The great all-embracing ‘general unions’, so far from proving 
stronger than the local and sectional societies, proved unwieldy and 
weak, though this was due less to the inherent drawbacks of general 
union than to the lack of discipline, organization and experience in 
leadership. The general strike proved inapplicable under Chartism, 
except (in 1842) as a spontaneously spreading hunger-riot. 

Conversely the methods of political agitation which belonged to 
Jacobinism and radicalism in general, but not specifically to the 
working class, proved both their effectiveness and their flexibility: 
political campaigns, by means of newspapers and pamphlet^, public 
meetings and demonstrations, and where necessary riot and insurrec¬ 
tion. It is true that where such campaigns aimed too high, or frightened 
the ruling classes too much, they too failed. In the hysterical 1810s the 
tendency was to call out the armed forces against any serious demonstra¬ 
tion (as at Spa Fields, London, in 1816, or ‘Peterloo’, Manchester, in 
1819, when ten demonstrators were killed and several hundred injured). 
In 1838-48 the millions of signatures on the petitions did not bring the 
People’s Charter any nearer. Nevertheless political campaigning on a 
narrower front was effective. Without it, there would have been no 
Catholic Emancipation in 1829, no Reform Act in 1832, and certainly 
no even modestly effective legislative control of factory conditions and 
working hours. Thus time and again we find a weakly organized work¬ 
ing class compensating for its weakness by the agitational methods of 
political radicalism. The ‘Factories Agitation’ of the 1830s in the 
North of England compensated for the weakness of the local unions, 
just as the mass protest campaign against the exile of the ‘Tolpuddle 
Martyrs’ (cf. above p. 119) tried to save something from the wreck of 
the collapsing ‘general unions’ after 1834. 

However, the Jacobin tradition in turn drew strength and an unpre¬ 
cedented continuity and massiveness from the cohesive solidarity and 
loyalty which were so characteristic of the new proletariat. They 
were not held together by the mere fact of being poor in the same place, 
but by the fact that working together in large numbers, co-operating 
in work, relying on each other, was their very life. Unbroken solidarity 
was their only weapon, for only thus could they demonstrate their 



single but decisive asset, collective indispensability. ‘No strike-breaking 1 
(or words to similar effect) was—and has remained—the first com¬ 
mandment in their moral code; the breaker of solidarity (described by 
the morally loaded adjective ‘black’ as in ‘blackleg’) was the Judas of 
their community. Once they had acquired even a dickering of political 
consciousness, their demonstrations were not the mere occasional 
eruptions of an exasperated ‘mob’, which easily relapsed into apathy. 
They were the stirrings of an army. Thus in a city like Sheffield, 
once the class struggle between middle and working class had become 
the main issue in local politics (in the early 1840s), a strong and stable 
proletarian bloc immediately appeared. By the end of 1847 there were 
eight Chartists on the town council, and the national collapse of 
Chartism in 1848 barely affected it in a city where between ten and 
twelve thousand hailed the Paris Revolution of that year: by 1849 
Chartists held almost half the seats on the council. 24 

Below the working class and the Jacobin tradition there lay the 
substratum of an even older tradition which reinforced both: that of 
riot, or the occasional public protest by desperate men. The direct 
action or rioting, the smashing of machines, shops or the houses of the 
rich, had a long history. In general it expressed sheer hunger or the 
feelings of men at the end of their tether, as in the waves of machine¬ 
breaking which periodically engulfed declining hand-industries threat¬ 
ened by the machine (British textiles in 1810-11 and again in 1826, 
continental textiles in the mid-1830s and mid-1840s). Sometimes, as in 
England, it was a recognized form of collective pressure by organized 
workers, and implied no hostility to machines, as among miners, 
certain skilled textile operatives or the cutlers, who combined political 
moderation with systematic terrorism against non-unionist colleagues. 
Or else it expressed the discontent of the unemployed or the starving. 
At a time of ripening revolution such direct action by otherwise 
politically immature men and women could turn into a decisive force, 
especially if it occurred in capital cities or other politically sensitive 
spots. Both in 1830 and in 1848 such movements threw a gigantic 
weight behind otherwise quite minor expressions of discontent, turning 
protest into insurrection. 


The labour movement of this period was, therefore, neither in composition 
nor in its ideology and programme a strictly ‘proletarian’ movement, 
i.e. one of industrial and factory workers or even one confined to wage- 
earners. It was rather a common front of all forces and tendencies 



representing the (mainly urban) labouring poor. Such a common front 
had long existed, but even as late as the French Revolution its leader¬ 
ship and inspiration had come from the liberal and radical middle 
classes. As we have seen, ‘Jacobinism’ and not ‘Sansculottism’ (let 
alone the aspirations of the immature proletarians) had given such 
unity as it possessed to the Parisian popular tradition. The novelty of 
the situation after 1815 was, that the common front was increasingly 
directed against the liberal middle class as well as the kings and aristo¬ 
crats, and that what gave it unity was the programme and ideology of 
the proletariat, even though the industrial and factory working class 
as yet barely existed, and was on the whole politically very much less 
mature than other sections of the labouring poor. Both the poor and 
the rich tended to assimilate the entire ‘urban mass existing below the 
middle order of society’ 25 politically to the ‘proletariat’ or ‘the working 
class’. All who were troubled by the ‘increasingly vivid and general 
sentiment that there is an internal disharmony in the present state of 
affairs, and that this state cannot last’ 26 inclined to turn to socialism as 
the only considered and intellectually valid critique and alternative. 

The leadership of the new movement reflected a similar state of 
affairs. The most active, militant and politically conscious of the 
labouring poor were not the new factory proletarians but the skilled 
craftsmen, independent artisans, small-scale domestic workers and 
others who lived and worked substantially as they had done before the 
Industrial Revolution, but under, far greater pressure. The earliest 
trade unions were almost invariably those of printers, hatters, tailors 
and the like. The nucleus of leadership of Chartism in a cjty like Leeds 
—and this was typical—consisted of a joiner turned handloom weaver, 
a couple of journeymen printers, a bookseller, a woolcomber. The men 
who adopted Mr Owen’s co-operative doctrines were in their majority 
such ‘artisans’, ‘mechanics’ and handworkers. The earliest German 
working-class communists were travelling journeymen craftsmen— 
tailors, joiners, printers. The men who rose against the bourgeoisie 
in the Paris of 1848 were still the inhabitants of the old artisan Fau¬ 
bourg Saint-Antoine, and not yet (as in the Commune of 1871) those of 
proletarian Belleville. Insofar as the advance of industry destroyed 
these very fortresses of ‘working-class’ consciousness, it fatally under¬ 
mined the strength of these early labour movements. Between 1820 
and 1850, for instance, the British movement created a dense network 
of institutions for working-class self-education and political education, 
the ‘mechanics’ institutes’, Owenite ‘Halls of Science’ and others. By 
1850 there were (not counting the more obviously political of these) 
700 of them in Britain—151 merely in the county of Yorkshire—with 



400 newsrooms. 27 But they were already declining and within a few 
decades most would be either dead or somnolent. 

There was only one exception. In Britain alone the new proletarians 
had already begun to organize and even to produce their own leaders: 
John Doherty, the Irish Owenite cotton spinner, Tommy Hepburn and 
Martin Jude, the miners. Not only the skilled artisans and the de¬ 
pressed domestic workers formed the battalions of Chartism; the 
factory workers were its fighters, and sometimes its leaders, too. But 
outside Britain the factory operatives and the miners were still in the 
main sufferers rather than agents. Not until the latter part of the 
century were they to take a hand themselves in the shaping of their fate. 

The labour movement was an organization of self-defence, of protest, 
of revolution. But for the labouring poor it was more than a tool of 
struggle: it was also a way of life. The liberal bourgeoisie offered them 
nothing; history took them away from the traditional life which con¬ 
servatives offered vainly to maintain or to restore. Neither had much to 
do with the sort of life into which they were increasingly drawn. But 
the movement had, or rather, the way of life which they hammered 
out for themselves, collective, communal, combative, idealist and iso¬ 
lated, implied the movement, for struggle was its very essence. And in 
return the movement gave it coherence and purpose. The liberal myth 
supposed that unions were composed of feckless labourers instigated 
by conscienceless agitators; but in reality the feckless were generally the 
least unionized, the most intelligent and competent workers the most 
firm in their support for union. 

The most highly developed examples of such ‘worlds of labour’ in 
this period were probably still those of the old domestic industries. 
There was the community of the Lyons silk-workers, the ever-rebellious 
canuts —who rose in 1831 and again in 1834, and who, in Michelet’s 
phrase, ‘because this world would not do, made themselves another in 
the humid obscurity of their alleys, a moral paradise of sweet dreams 
and visions’. 28 There were communities such as those of the Scottish 
linenweavers with their republican and Jacobin puritanism, their 
Swedenborgian heresies, their Tradesman’s Library, savings’ bank, 
Mechanics Institute, Library and Scientific Club, their Drawing 
Academy, missionary meetings, temperance leagues and infant schools, 
their Florists’ Society and literary magazine (the Dunfermline Gas¬ 
ometer )*—and of course their Chartism. Class consciousness, militancy, 
hatred and contempt for the oppressor belonged to this life as much as 

* Cf. T. L. Peacock, Nightmare Abbey (1818): ‘You are a philosopher,’ said the lady, ‘and 
a lover of liberty. You are the author of a treatise called ‘‘Philosophical Gas; or a Project 
for the General Illumination of the Human Mind”.’ 



the looms on which men wove. They owed nothing to the rich except 
their wages. What they had in life was their own collective creation. 

But this silent process of self-organization was not confined to workers 
of this older type. It is reflected in the ‘union’, often based On the local 
Primitive Methodist community, in the Northumberland and Durham 
mines. It is reflected in the dense concentration of workers’ mutual and 
friendly societies in the new industrial areas, especially Lancashire.* 
Above all it is reflected in the serried thousands of men, women and 
children who streamed with torches on to the moors for Chartist 
demonstrations from the smaller industrial towns of Lancashire, in the 
rapidity with which the new Rochdale co-operative shops spread in 
the latter 1840s. 


And yet, as we look back upon this period, there is a great and evident 
discrepancy between the force of the labouring poor, which the rich 
feared, the ‘spectre of communism’ which haunted them, and their 
actual organized force, let alone that of the new industrial proletariat. 
The public expression of their protest was, in the literal sense, a 
‘movement 1 rather than an organization. What linked even the most 
massive and comprehensive of their political manifestations—Chartism 
(1838-48)—together was little more than a handful of traditional and 
radical slogans, a few powerful orators and journalists who became 
the voices of the poor, like Feargus O’Connor (1794-1855), a few 
newspapers like the Northern Star. It was the common fate of being 
against the rich and the great which the old militants have recalled: 

‘Wc had a dog called Rodney. My grandmother disliked the name because 
she had a curious sort of notion that Admiral Rodney, having been elevated 
to the peerage, had been hostile to the people. The old lady, too, was careful 
to explain to me that Cobbett and Cobden were two different persons—that 
Cobbett was the hero, and that Cobden was just a middle class advocate. One 
of the pictures that I longest remember—it stood alongside samplers and 
stencilled drawings not far from a china statuette of George Washington— 
was a portrait of John Frost.f A line at the top of the picture indicated that 
it belonged to a series called the Portrait Gallery of People’s Friends. Above 
the head was a laurel wreath, while below was a representation of Mr Frost 
appealing to Justice on behalf of ragged and wretched outcasts.... The most 

* In 1821 Lancashire had by far the highest proportion of friendly sociedes’ members to 
total population in the country (17 per cent); in 1845 almost half the lodge* of the Odd¬ 
fellows were in Lancashire and Yorkshire.” 

f Leader of the unsuccessful Chartist insurrection at Newport, 1839. 



constant of our visitors was a crippled shoemaker . . . (who) made his 
appearance every Sunday morning as regular as clockwork, with a copy of 
the Northern Star, damp from the press, for the purpose of hearing some 
member of our household read out to him and others ‘Feargus’ letter’. The 
paper had first to be dried before the fire, and then carefully and evenly cut, 
so as not to damage a single line of the almost sacred production. This done, 
Larry, placidly smoking a cutty pipe, which he occasionally thrust into the 
grate, settled himself to listen with all the rapture of a devotee in a tabernacle 
to the message of the great Feargus.’ 30 

There was little leadership or co-ordination. The most ambitious 
attempt to turn a movement into an organization, the ‘general union’ 
of 1834-5, broke down miserably and rapidly. At most—in Britain as 
on the continent—there was the spontaneous solidarity of the local 
labouring community, the men who, like the Lyons silkworkers, died 
as hard as they lived. What held this movement together was hunger, 
wretchedness, hatred and hope. And what defeated it, in Chartist 
Britain as on the revolutionary continent of 1848, was that the poor 
were hungry, numerous and desperate enough to rise, but lacked the 
organization and maturity which could have made their rebellion 
more than a momentary danger to the social order. By 1848 the 
movement of the labouring poor had yet to develop its equivalent to 
the Jacobinism of the revolutionary middle class of 1789-94. 




Give me a people where boiling passions and worldly greed are calmed by faith, 
hope and charity; a people which sees this earth as a pilgrimage and the other life as its 
true fatherland; a people taught to admire and revere in Christian heroism its very 
poverty and its very sufferings; a people that loves and adores in Jesus Christ the first¬ 
born of all the oppressed, and in his cross the instrument of universal salvation . Give me, I 
say, a people formed in this mould and socialism will not merely be easily defeated, but 
impossible to be thought of . . . 

Civilt& Cattolica 1 

'But when Napoleon began his advance, they (the Molokan heretic peasants) 
believed that he was that lion of the valley of Jehoshaphat, who, as their old hymns 
tell, is destined to overthrow the false Tsar and to restore the throne of the true White 
Tsar. And so the Molokans of Tambov province chose a deputation among themselves, 
which was to go to meet him and greet him, dressed in white raimentS 
Haxthausen, Studien ueber . . . Russland* 


What men think about the world is one thing; the terms in which 
they think about it, another. For most of history and over most of the 
world (China being perhaps the main exception) the terms in which 
all but a handful of educated and emancipated men thought about the 
world were those of traditional religion, so much so that there are 
countries in which the word ‘Christian’ is simply a synonym for‘peasant’ 
or even ‘man’. At some stage before 1848 this ceased to be so in parts 
of Europe, though not yet outside the area transformed by the two 
revolutions. Religion, from being something like the sky, from which 
no man can escape and which contains all that is above the earth, 
became something like a bank of clouds, a large but limited and 
changing feature of the human firmament. Of all the ideological 
changes this is by far the most profound, though its practical consequences 
were more ambiguous and undetermined than was then supposed. At 
all events, it is the most unprecedented. 

What was unprecedented, of course, was the secularization of the 
masses. A gentlemanly religious indifference combined with the punc¬ 
tilious exercise of ritual duties (to set an example to the lower orders) 
had long been familiar among emancipated noblemen, 3 though ladies. 



like all their sex, remained far more pious. Polite and educated men 
might be technically believers in a supreme being, though one which 
had no function except existing and certainly did not interfere with 
human activities or require any form of worship except a gracious 
acknowledgement. But their views on traditional religion were con¬ 
temptuous and often frankly hostile, and their views would have been 
no different had they been ready to declare themselves frank atheists. 
‘Sire,’ the great mathematician Laplace is reported to have told 
Napoleon, when asked where God fitted into his celestial mechanics, 
‘I have no need of such an hypothesis.’ Frank atheism was still com¬ 
paratively rare, but among the enlightened scholars, writers and gentle¬ 
men who set the intellectual fashions of the later eighteenth century, 
frank Christianity was even rarer. If there was a flourishing religion 
among the late eighteenth century dlite, it was rationalist, illuminist 
and anti-clerical Freemasonry. 

This widespread dechristianization of males in the polite and educated 
classes dated back to the late seventeenth or early eighteenth centuries, 
and its public effects had been startling and beneficial: the mere fact 
that trials for witchcraft, which had plagued western and Central 
Europe for several centuries, now followed trials for heresy and autos- 
da-ji into limbo, would be enough to justify it. However, in the earlier 
eighteenth century it hardly affected the lower or even the middle 
ranks. The peasantry remained totally beyond the range of any ideo¬ 
logical language which did not speak with the tongues of the Virgin, 
the Saints, and Holy Writ, not to mention the more ancient gods and 
spirits which still hid beneath a slightly christianized fagade. There 
were stirrings of irreligious thought among those craftsmen who would 
formerly have been drawn to heresy. The cobblers, most persistent of 
working-class intellectuals, who had produced mystics like Jacob 
Boehme, seem to have begun to have their doubts about any deity. At 
all events in Vienna they were the only group of craftsmen to sympa¬ 
thize with the Jacobins, because it was said that these did not believe 
in God. However, these were as yet tiny ripples. The great mass of 
unskilled and miscellaneous poverty in the cities remained (except 
perhaps for a few North European towns like Paris and London) pro¬ 
foundly pious or superstitious. 

But even among the middle ranks overt hostility to religion was not 
popular, though the ideology of a rationalist progressive-minded, anti- 
traditional enlightenment fitted excellently into the scheme of things 
of a rising middle class. Its associations were with aristocracy and 
immorality, which itself belonged to a noble society. And indeed the 
earliest really ‘free thinkers’, the libertins of the mid-seventeenth century, 


ideology: religion 

lived up to the popular connotation of their name: Moliere’s Don Juan 
portrays not merely their combination of atheism and sexual freedom, 
but the respectable bourgeois horror of it. There were good reasons for 
the paradox (particularly obvious in the seventeenth century) that the 
intellectually most daring thinkers, who thereby anticipated much of 
later middle class ideology, e.g. Bacon and Hobbes, were as individuals 
associated with the old and corrupt society. The armies of the rising 
middle class needed the discipline and organization of a strong and 
single-minded morality for their batdes. Theoretically agnosticism or 
atheism is perfectly compatible with this, and certainly Christianity 
unnecessary for it; and the philosophes of the eighteenth century were 
never tired of demonstrating that a ‘natural’ morality (of which they 
found illustrations among the noble savages) and the high personal 
standards of the individual free-thinker were better than Christianity. 
But in practice the tried advantages of the old type of religion and the 
terrible risks of abandoning any supernatural sanction of morality were 
immense; not only for the labouring poor, who were generally held to 
be too ignorant and stupid to do without some sort of socially useful 
superstition, but for the middle class itself. 

The post-revolutionary generations in France are full of attempts to 
create a bourgeois non-Christian morality equivalent to the Christian; 
by a RousseauL't ‘cult of the supreme being’ (Robespierre in 1794), by 
various pseudo-religious constructed on rationalist non-Christian foun¬ 
dations, but still maintaining the apparatus of ritual and cults (the 
Saint-Simonians, and Comte’s ‘religion of humanity’). Eventually the 
attempt to maintain the externals of old religious cults was abandoned, 
but not the attempt to establish a formal lay morality (based on various 
moral concepts such as ‘solidarity’) and above all on a lay counterpart 
to the priesthood, the schoolteachers. The French institutes, poor, 
selfless, imbuing his pupils in each village with the Roman morality of 
Revolution and Republic, the official antagonist to the village cur6, 
did not triumph until the Third Republic, which also solved the poli¬ 
tical problems of establishing bourgeois stability on the foundations 
of social revolution, at all events for seventy years. But he is already 
implicit in Condorcet’s law of 1792 which established that ‘the persons 
in charge of instruction in primary classes shall be called instituteurs’ 
echoing Cicero and Sallust who spoke of‘founding the commonwealth’ 
(instituere civitatem) and ‘founding morality of commonwealths’ ( instituere 
civitatum mores).* 

The bourgeoisie thus remained divided in its ideology between a 
minority of increasingly frank freethinkers and a majority of the pious, 
Protestant, Jewish and Catholic. However, ihe new historic fact was 



that of the two the free-thinking sector was immeasurably more dynamic 
and effective. Though in purely quantitative terms religion remained 
immensely strong and, as we shall see, grew stronger, it was no longer 
(to use a biological analogy) dominant but recessive, and has remained 
so to this day within the world transformed by the dual revolution. 
There is little doubt that the great bulk of the citizens of the new USA 
were believers of one sort or another, mostly Protestant, but the Con¬ 
stitution of the Republic is, and in spite of all efforts to change it has 
remained, one of agnosticism. There is no doubt whatever that among 
the British middle classes of our period the Protestant pietists greatly 
and increasingly outnumbered the minority of agnostic radicals. But a 
Bentham moulded the actual institutions of their age far more than a 

The most obvious proof of this decisive victory of secular over 
religious ideology is also its most important result. With the American 
and French Revolutions major political and social transformations 
were secularized. The issues of the Dutch and English Revolutions 
of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries had still been discussed and 
fought out in the traditional language of Christianity, orthodox, schis¬ 
matic or heretical. In the ideologies of the American and French, for 
the first time in European history, Christianity is irrelevant. The 
language, the symbolism, the costume of 1789 are purely non-Christian, 
if we leave aside a few popular-archaic efforts to create cults of saints 
and martyrs, analogous to the old ones, out of dead Sansculotte heroes. 
It was, in fact, Roman. At the same time this secularism of the revo¬ 
lution demonstrates the remarkable political hegemony of the liberal 
middle class, which imposed its particular ideological forms on a much 
vaster movement of the masses. If the intellectual leadership of the 
French Revolution had come only very slightly from the masses who 
actually made it, it is inconceivable that its ideology should not have 
shown more signs of traditionalism than it did.’*' 

Bourgeois triumph thus imbued the French Revolution with the 
agnostic or secular-moral ideology of the eighteenth century enlighten¬ 
ment, and since the idiom of that revolution became the general lan¬ 
guage of all subsequent social revolutionary movements, it transmitted 
this secularism to them also. With a few unimportant exceptions, 
notably among intellectuals like the Saint-Simonians and among a few 
archaic Christian-communist sectarians like the tailor Wei ding (1808- 
1871), the ideology of the new working class and socialist movements 
of the nineteenth century was secularist from the start. Thomas Paine, 

* In fact only popular songs of the period do sometimes echo Catholic terminology, like 
the fa Ira. 


ideology: religion 

whose ideas expressed the radical-democratic aspirations of small 
artisans and pauperized craftsmen, is as famous for having written the 
first book to demonstrate in popular language that the Bible is not 
the word of God (The Age of Reason, 1794), as for his Rights of Man 
(1791). The mechanics of the 1820s followed Robert Owen not only 
for his analysis of capitalism, but for his unbelief, and, long after the 
collapse of Owenism, their Halls of Science spread rationalist propaganda 
through the cities. There have been and are religious socialists, and a 
very large number of men who, while religious, are also socialists. But 
the predominant ideology of modern labour and socialist movements, 
insofar as they claim one, is based on eighteenth century rationalism. 

This is all the more surprising as we have seen the masses to have 
remained predominantly religious, and as the natural revolutionary 
idiom of masses brought up in a traditional Christian society is one of 
rebellion (social heresy, millennialism and the like), the Bible being a 
highly incendiary document. However, the prevalent secularism of the 
new labour and socialist movements was based on the equally novel 
and more fundamental fact of the prevalent religious indifference of 
the new proletariat. By modern standards the working-classes and urban 
masses which grew up in the period of the Industrial Revolution were 
no doubt rather strongly influenced by religion; by the standards of the 
first half of the nineteenth century there was no precedent for their 
remoteness from, ignorance of, and indifference to, organized religion. 
Observers of all political tendencies agreed about this. The British 
Religious Census of 1851 demonstrated it to the horror of contem¬ 
poraries. Much of this remoteness was due to the utter failure of the 
traditional established churches to cope with agglomerations—the 
great cities and the new industrial settlements—and with social classes 
—the proletariat—which were foreign to their routines and experience. 
By 1851 there were church places available for only 34 per cent of the 
inhabitants of Sheffield, only 31-2 per cent of those in Liverpool and 
Manchester, only 29 per cent of those in Birmingham. The problems 
of being a parish priest in an agricultural village were no guide to the 
cure of souls in an industrial town or urban slum. 

The established churches therefore neglected these new communities 
and classes, thus leaving them (especially in Catholic and Lutheran 
countries) almost entirely to the secular faith of the new labour move¬ 
ments, which were eventually—towards the end of the nineteenth 
century—to capture them. (Where they had not by 1848 done so to any 
great extent, the incentive to recapture them from infidelity was not 
strong.) The protestant sects were more successful, at all events in the 
countries such as Britain, in which such sectarianism was a well- 



established religio-political phenomenon. Nevertheless, there is much 
evidence that even the sects succeeded best where the social environ¬ 
ment was nearest to that of the traditional small town or village 
community, as among the farm-labourers, miners, and fishermen. 
Moreover, among the industrial labouring classes the sects were never 
more than a minority. The working class as a group was undoubtedly 
less touched by organized religion than any previous body of the poor 
in world history. 

The general trend of the period from 1789 to 1848 was therefore one 
of emphatic secularization. Science found itself in increasingly open 
conflict with the Scriptures, as it ventured into evolutionary fields (cf 
Chapter 15). Historical scholarship, applied to the Bible in unprece¬ 
dented doses—particularly from the 1830s by the professors of Tue¬ 
bingen—dissolved the single text inspired, if not written, by the Lord 
into a collection of historical documents from various periods, with all 
the defects of human documentation. Lachmann’s Novum Testamentum 
(1842-1852) denied that the Gospels were eyewitness accounts and 
doubted whether Jesus Christ had intended to found a new religion. 
David Strauss’s controversial Life of Jesus (1835) eliminated the super¬ 
natural element from his subject’s biography. By 1848 educated Europe 
was almost ripe for the shock of Charles Darwin. The trend was rein¬ 
forced by the direct attack of numerous political regimes on the property 
and legal privileges of the established churches and their clergy or 
other ritual persons, and the increasing tendency for governments or 
other secular agencies to take over functions hitherto left largely to 
religious ones; especially—in Roman Catholic countries-—education 
and social welfare. Between 1789 and 1848 monasteries were dissolved 
and their property sold from Naples to Nicaragua. Outside Europe, of 
course, conquering whites launched direct attacks upon the religion 
of their subjects or victims, either—like the British administrators in 
India who stamped out the burning of widows ( suttee ) and the ritual 
murder sect of the thugs in the 1830s—as convinced champions of 
enlightenment against superstition, or merely because they hardly 
knew what effect their measures would have on their victims. 


In purely numerical terms it is evident that all religions, unless actually 
contracting, were likely to expand with the rise in population. Yet two 
types showed a particular aptitude for expansion in our period: Islam 
and sectarian Protestantism. This expansionism was all the more striking 
as it contrasted with the marked failure of other Christian religions— 


ideology: religion 

both Catholic and Protestant—to expand, in spite of a sharp increase 
in missionary activity outside Europe, increasingly backed by the 
military, political and economic force of European penetration. In fact, 
the revolutionary and Napoleonic decades saw the beginning of 
systematic Protestant missionary activity mostly by Anglo-Saxons. The 
Baptist Missionary Society (1792), the interdenominational London 
Missionary Society (1795), the evangelical Church Missionary Society 
(1799), the British and Foreign Bible Society (1804) were followed by 
the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (1810), by 
the American Baptists (1814), Wesleyans (1813-18), the American 
Bible Society (1816), the Church of Scotland (1824), the United 
Presbyterians (1835), the American Methodist Episcopalians (1819) 
and the rest. Continental Protestants, in spite of some pioneering by 
the Netherlands Missionary Society (1797) and the Basel Missionaries 
(1815), developed somewhat later: the Berlin and Rhenish societies in 
the 1820s, the Swedish, Leipzig and Bremen societies in the thirties, the 
Norwegian in 1842. Roman Catholicism, whose missions were stagnant 
and neglected, revived even later. The reasons for this outpouring of 
bibles and trade over the heathen belong both to the religious, social 
and economic histories of Europe and America. Here we need merely 
note that by 1848 its results were still negligible, except in some Pacific 
Islands like Hawaii. A few footholds had been gained on the coast in 
Sierra Leone (whither anti-slavery agitation attracted attention in the 
1790s) and in Liberia, formed as a state of liberated American slaves 
in the 1820s. Around the fringes of European settlement in South 
Africa foreign missionaries (but not the established local Church of 
England and Dutch Reformed Church) had begun to convert Africans 
in some quantities. But when David Livingstone, the famous missionary 
and explorer, sailed for Africa in 1840, the original inhabitants of that 
continent were still virtually untouched by Christianity in any shape. 

As against this Islam was continuing that silent, piecemeal and 
irreversible expansion unbacked by organized missionary endeavour 
or forcible conversion, which is so characteristic of that religion. It 
expanded both eastwards, in Indonesia and North-western China, and 
westwards from the Sudan towards Senegal and, to a much smaller 
extent, from the shores of the Indian ocean inland. When traditional 
societies change something so fundamental as their religion, it is clear 
that they must be facing major new problems. The Moslem traders, 
who virtually monopolized the commerce of inner Africa with the out¬ 
side world and multiplied with it, helped to bring Islam to the notice of 
new peoples. The slave-trade, which broke down communal life, made 
it attractive, for Islam is a powerful means of reintegrating social struc- 



tures. 4 * At the same time the Mohammedan religion appealed to the 
semi-feudal and military societies of the Sudan, and its sense of indepen¬ 
dence, militancy and superiority made it a useful counterweight to 
slavery. Moslem Negroes made bad slaves: the Haussa (and other 
Sudanese) who had been imported into Bahia (Brazil) revolted nine 
times between 1807 and the great rising of 1835 until, in effect, they 
were mostly killed or deported back to Africa. The slavers learned to 
avoid imports from these areas, which had only recently been opened 
to the trade. 5 

While the element of resistance to the whites was clearly very small 
in African Islam (where there were as yet hardly any), it was by tradi¬ 
tion crucial in South-east Asia. There Islam—once again pioneered by 
traders—had long advanced against local cults and the declining 
Hinduism of the spice islands, largely as a means of more effective 
resistance against the Portuguese and the Dutch, as ‘a kind of pre¬ 
nationalism’, though also as a popular counterweight to the Hinduized 
princes. 6 As these princes increasingly turned into narrowly circum¬ 
scribed dependents or agents of the Dutch, Islam sunk its roots more 
deeply into the population. In turn, the Dutch learned that the Indo¬ 
nesian princes could, by allying with the religious teachers, unleash a 
general popular rising, as in the Java War of the Prince of Djogjakarta 
(1825-1830). They were consequently time and again driven back to 
a policy of close alliance with the local rulers, or indirect rule. Mean- 
wh'le the growth of trade and shipping forged closer links between 
South-east Asian Muslim and Mecca, served to increase the number of 
pilgrims, to make Indonesian Islam more orthodox, and even to open 
it to the militant and revivalist influence of Arabian Wahhabism. 

Within Islam the movements of reform and revival, which in this 
period gave the religion much of its penetrative power, can also be seen 
as reflecting the impact of European expansion and the crisis of the 
old Mohammedan societies (notably of the Turkish and Persian em¬ 
pires) and perhaps also of the growing crisis of the Chinese empire. 
The puritanical Wahhabites had arisen in Arabia in the mid-eighteenth 
century. By 1814 they had conquered Arabia and were ready to conquer 
Syria, until halted by the combined force of the westernizing Moham¬ 
med Ali of Egypt and Western arms; though their teachings spread 
eastwards into Persia, Afghanistan and India. Inspired by Wahhabism 
an Algerian holy man, Sidi Mohammed ben Ali el Senussi, developed 
a similar movement which from the 1840s spread from Tripoli into the 
Sahara desert. In Algeria Abd-el-Kader, in the Caucasus Shamyl, 
developed religio-political movements of resistance to the French and 
Russians respectively (see chapter 7) and anticipated a pan-Islamism 


ideology: religion 

which sought not merely a return to the original purity of the Prophet 
but also to absorb Western innovations. In Persia an even more obviously 
nationalist and revolutionary heterodoxy, the bob movement of Ali 
Mohammed, arose in the 1840s. It tended, among other things, to 
return to certain ancient practices of Persian Zoroastrianism and 
demanded the unveiling of women. 

The ferment and expansion of Islam was such that in terms of purely 
religious history, we can perhaps best describe the period from 1789 
to 1848 as that of a world Islamic revival. No equivalent mass move¬ 
ments developed in any other non-Christian religion, though by the 
end of the period we are on the verge of a great Chinese Taiping 
rebellion, which has many characteristics of such a one. Small religious 
reform movements of the evoluds were founded in British India, notably 
Ram Mohan Roy’s (1772-1833) Brahmo Samaj. In the United States 
the defeated Indian tribes began to develop religio-social prophetic 
movements of resistance to the whites, such as that which inspired the 
war of the largest recorded confederation of the Plains Indians under 
Tecumseh in the first decade of the century, and Handsome Lake’s 
religion (1799), designed to preserve the Iroquois way of life against 
disruption by white American society. It is to the credit of Thomas 
Jefferson, a man of rare enlightenment, that he gave this prophet, who 
adopted some Christian and especially Quaker elements, his official 
blessing. However, the direct contact between an advanced capitalist 
civilization and animist peoples was still too rare to produce many of 
those prophetic and millenial movements which have become so 
typical of the twentieth century. 

The expansionist movement of Protestant sectarianism differs from 
that of Islam in that it was almost entirely confined to the countries of 
developed capitalist civilization. Its extent cannot be measured, for 
some movements of this kind (for instance German pietism or English 
evangelicalism) remained within the framework of their respective 
established State churches. However, its size is not in doubt. In 1851 
roughly half the Protestant worshippers in England and Wales at¬ 
tended religious services other than those of the Established Church. 
This extraordinary triumph of the sects was the result, in the main, of 
religious developments since 1790, or more precisely since the last years 
of the Napoleonic Wars. Thus in 1790 the Wesleyan Methodists had 
only 59,000 communicant members in the UK; in 1850 they and their 
various offshoots had something like ten times that number. 7 In the 
United States a very similar process of mass conversion multiplied the 
number of Baptists, Methodists and to a lesser extent Presbyterians at 
the relative expense of the formerly dominant churches; by 1850 al- 


the age of REVOLUTION 

most three-quarters of all churches in the USA belonged to these three 
denominations. 8 The disruption of established churches, the secession 
and rise of sects, also marks the religious history of this period in 
Scotland (the ‘Great Disruption’ of 1843), the Netherlands, Norway 
and other countries. 

The reasons for the geographical and social limits of Protestant 
sectarianism are evident. Roman Catholic countries provided no scope 
for and tradition of public sects. There the equivalent break with the 
established church or the dominant religion was more likely to take the 
form of mass dechristianization (especially among the men) than of 
schism.* (Conversely, the Protestant anticlericalism of the Anglo- 
Saxon countries was often the exact counterpart of the atheist anti¬ 
clericalism of continental ones.) Religious revivalism was likely to take 
the form of some new emotional cult, some miracle-working saint or 
pilgrimage within the accepted framework of the Roman Catholic 
religion. One or two such saints of our period have come to wider notice, 
e.g. the Cure d’Ars (1786-1859) in France. The Orthodox Christianity 
of Eastern Europe lent itself more readily to sectarianism, and in 
Russia the growing disruption of a backward society had since the 
later seventeenth century produced a crop of sects. Several, in par¬ 
ticular the self-castrating Skoptsi, the Doukhobors of the Ukraine and 
the Molokans, were the products of the later eighteenth century and the 
Napoleonic period; ‘Old Believers’ dated from the seventeenth century. 
However, in general the classes to which such sectarianism made the 
greatest appeal—small craftsmen, traders, commercial farmers and 
other precursors of the bourgeoisie, or conscious peasant revolutionaries 
—were still not numerous enough to produce a sectarian movement of 
vast size. 

In the Protestant countries the situation was different. Here the 
impact of the commercial and individualist society was strongest (at 
all events in Britain and the USA) while the sectarian tradition was 
already well-established. Its exclusiveness and insistence on the indi¬ 
vidual communication between man and God, as well as its moral 
austerity, made it attractive to, or a schpol for, rising entrepreneurs and 
small businessmen. Its gaunt, implacable, theology of hell and damna¬ 
tion and of an austere personal salvation made it attractive to men who 
lived harsh lives in a harsh environment: to frontiersmen and seamen, 
to small individual cultivators and miners, to exploited craftsmen. The 
sect could easily turn into a democratic, egalitarian assembly of the 
faithful without social or religious hierarchy, and thus appealed to the 

* The sects and breakaways to Protestantism which occurred—not as yet very frequently— 
remained, and have since remained, numerically tiny. 


ideology: religion 

common man. Its hostility to elaborate ritual and learned doctrine 
encouraged amateur prophecy and preaching. The persistent tradition 
of millenarianism lent itself to a primitive expression of social rebellion. 
Finally, its association with emotionally overpowering personal ‘con¬ 
version’ opened the way for a mass religious ‘revivalism’ of hysterical 
intensity, in which men and women could find a welcome release from 
the stresses of a society which provided no equivalent outlets for mass 
emotion, and destroyed those which had existed in the past. 

‘Revivalism’ did more than anything else to propagate the sects. Thus 
it was the intensely emotional, irrationalist, personal salvationism of 
John Wesley (1703-1791) and his Methodists which provided the im¬ 
petus for the renaissance and expansion of Protestant dissent, at any 
rate in Britain. For this reason the new sects and trends were initially 
a-political or even (like the Wesleyans) strongly conservative, for they 
turned away from the evil outside world to personal salvation or to 
the life of the self-contained group, which often meant that they re¬ 
jected the possibility of any collective alteration of its secular arrange¬ 
ments. Their ‘political’ energies generally went into moral and religious 
campaigns like those which multiplied foreign missions, anti-slavery and 
temperance agitations. The politically active and radical sectarians in 
the period of the American and French Revolutions belonged rather 
to the older, drier, and more tranquil dissenting and puritan com¬ 
munities which had survived from the seventeenth century, stagnant or 
even evolving towards an intellectualist deism under the influence of 
eighteenth century rationalism. - Presbyterians, Congregationalists, 
Unitarians, Quakers. The new Methodist type of sectarianism was anti¬ 
revolutionary, and the immunity of Britain to revolution in our period 
has even—mistakenly—been ascribed to their growing influence. 

However, the social character of the new sects militated against their 
theological withdrawal from the world. They spread most readily 
among those who stood between the rich and powerful on one side, the 
masses of the traditional society on the other: i.e. among those who were 
about to rise into the middle class, those about to decline into a new 
proletariat, and the indiscriminate mass of small and independent men 
in between. The fundamental political orientation of all these inclined 
them towards a Jacobinical or Jeffersonian radicalism, or at least, a 
moderate middle class liberalism. ‘Nonconformism’ in Britain, the 
prevalent Protestant churches in the USA, therefore tended to take 
their place as political forces on the left; though among the British 
Methodists the Toryism of their founder was overcome only in the 
course of the half-century of secessions and internal crises which ended 
in 1848. 



Only among the very poor, or the very shaken, did the original re¬ 
jection of the existing world continue. But there was often a primitive 
revolutionary rejection, taking the form of the millenarian prediction 
of the end of the world, which the tribulations of the post-Napoleonic 
period appeared (in line with the Apocalypse) to foreshadow. The 
Irvingites in Britain announced it for 1835 and 1838; William Miller, 
the founder of the Seventh Day Adventists in the USA, predicted it for 
1843 and 1844, by which time 50,000 were said to follow him and 
3,000 preachers to back him. In the areas where small stable indi¬ 
vidualist farming and petty trading were under the immediate impact 
of the growth of a dynamic capitalist economy, such as in upstate 
New York, this millenarian ferment was particularly powerful. Its most 
dramatic product was the sect of the Latter-Day Saints (the Mormons), 
founded by the prophet Joseph Smith who received his revelation near 
Palmyra, N.Y., in the 1820s, and led his people in an exodus towards 
some remote Zion which eventually brought them into the deserts of 

These were also the groups among whom the collective hysteria of 
the mass revival meeting made the greatest appeal; whether because 
it relieved the harshness and drabness of their lives (‘when no other 
entertainment offers, religious revivals will sometimes take its place’ a 
lady observed of the girls in the Essex mills)® or whether its collective 
religious union created a temporary community of disparate indi¬ 
viduals. In its modern form revivalism was the product of the American 
frontier. The ‘Great Awakening’ began around 1800 in the Appalach¬ 
ians with gigantic ‘camp meetings’—the one at Kane Ridge, Kentucky 
(1801) united between ten and twenty thousand people under forty 
preachers—and a degree of sustained orgiastic hysteria difficult to con¬ 
ceive: men and women ‘jerked’, danced to exhaustion, fell into trances 
by the thousands, ‘spoke with tongues’ or barked like dogs. Remoteness, 
a harsh natural or social environment, or a combination of all these, 
encouraged such revivalism, which travelling preachers imported into 
Europe, thus producing a proletarian-democratic secession from the 
Wesleyans (the so-called Primitive Methodists) after 1808, who spread 
particularly among British Northcountry miners and small hill farmers, 
among North Sea fishermen, farm-labourers and the depressed domestic 
workers of the sweated industries in the Midlands. Such bouts of 
religious hysteria occurred periodically (throughout our period—in 
South Wales they broke out in 1807-9, 1828-30, 1839-42, 1849 and 
1859 10 and account for the major increases in the numerical strength of 
the sects. They cannot be ascribed to any single precipitating cause. 
Some coincided with periods of acute tension and unrest (all but one 


ideology: religion 

of the periods of ultra-rapid Wesleyan expansion in our period did so), 
but sometimes also with rapid recovery after a depression, and 
occasionally they were precipitated by social calamities like the cholera 
epidemics, which produced analogous religious phenomena in other 
Christian countries. 


In purely religious terms we must therefore see our period as one in 
which increasing secularization and (in Europe) religious indifference 
battled with revivals of religion in its most uncompromising, irrationalist, 
and emotionally compulsive forms. If Tom Paine stands at one extreme, 
William Miller the Adventist stands at the other. The frankly atheist 
mechanical materialism of the German philosopher Feuerbach (1804- 
1872) in the 1830s confronted the anti-intellectualist young men of the 
‘Oxford Movement’ who defended the literal accuracy of the early 
medieval lives of the saints. 

But this return to militant, literal, old-fashioned religion had three 
aspects. For the masses it was, in the main, a method of coping with the 
increasingly bleak and inhuman oppressive society of middle-class 
liberalism: in Marx’s phrase (but he was not the only one to use such 
words) it was the ‘heart of a heartless world, as it is the spirit of spiritless 
conditions... the opium of the people’. 11 More than this: it attempted to 
create social and sometimes educational and political institutions in an 
environment which provided none, and among politically undeveloped 
people it gave primitive expression to their discontents and aspirations. 
Its literalism, emotionalism and superstition protested both against the 
entire society in which rational calculation dominated and against 
the upper classes who deformed religion in their own image. 

For the middle classes rising out of such masses, religion could be a 
powerful moral prop, a justification of their social existence against 
the united contempt and hatred of traditional society, and an engine 
of their expansion. It liberated them from the fetters of that society, 
if they were sectarians. It gave their profits a moral title greater than 
that of mere rational self-interest; it legitimized their harshness towards 
the oppressed; it united with trade to bring civilization to the heathen 
and sales to business. 

For the monarchies and aristocracies, and indeed for all who rested 
on top of the social pyramid, it provided social stability. They had 
learned from the French Revolution that the Church was the strongest 
prop of the throne. Pious and illiterate peoples like the South Italians, 



the Spaniards, the Tyrolese and the Russians had leaped to arms to 
defend their church and ruler against foreigners, infidels and revolution¬ 
aries, blessed and in some instances led by their priests. Pious and 
illiterate peoples would live content in the poverty to which God had 
called them under the rulers which Providence had given them, 
simple, moral, orderly and immune from the subversive effects of 
reason. For conservative governments after 1815—and what conti¬ 
nental European governments were not?—the encouragement of 
religious sentiments and churches was as indispensable a part of policy 
as the organization of police-offices, and censorships, for the priest, the 
policemen and the censor were now the three main props of reaction 
against revolution. 

For most established governments it was enough that Jacobinism 
threatened thrones and the churches preserved them. However, for a 
group of romantic intellectuals and ideologists the alliance between 
throne and altar had a more profound significance: it preserved an old, 
organic, living society against the corrosion of reason and liberalism, 
and the individual found it a more adequate expression of his tragic 
predicament than any provided by the rationalists. In France and 
England such justifications of the alliance between throne and altar 
had no great political importance. Neither did the romantic search for a 
tragic and personal religion. (The most important explorer of these 
profundities ofthe human heart, theDane Soren Kierkegaard, 1813-1855, 
came from a small country and attracted very little contemporary 
attention: his fame is entirely posthumous.) However, in the German 
States and in Russia, the strongholds of monarchist reaction, romantic¬ 
reactionary intellectuals played some part in politics as civil servants, 
drafters of manifestoes and programmes, and where monarchs were 
themselves inclined to mental imbalance (like Alexander I of Russia 
and Frederick William IV of Prussia) as private advisers. On the whole, 
however, the Friedrich Gentzes and Adam Muellers were minor 
figures, and their religious medievalism (which Metternich himself 
distrusted) was merely a slight traditionalist flourish to announce the 
policemen and the censors on whom their kings relied. The force of the 
Holy Alliance of Russia, Austria and Prussia which was to keep Europe 
in order after 1815 rested not on its titular crusading mysticism, but on 
the simple decision to put down any and every subversive movement 
by Russian, Prussian or Austrian arms. Moreover, genuinely con¬ 
servative governments were inclined to distrust all intellectuals and 
ideologists, even reactionary ones, for, once the principle of thinking 
rather than obeying was accepted, the end was in sight. As Friedrich 
Gentz (Metternich’s secretary) wrote in 1819 to Adam Mueller: 


ideology: religion 

‘I continue to defend the proposition: “In order that the press may not be 
abused, nothing whatever shall be printed in the next . . . years. Period.” 
If this principle were to be applied as a binding rule, a very few rare 
exceptions being authorized by a very clearly superior Tribunal, we 
should within a brief time find our way back to God and Truth.’ 12 

And yet, if the anti-liberal ideologists were of small political import¬ 
ance, their flight from the horrors of liberalism into a truly godly and 
organic past was of considerable religious interest, for it produced a 
marked revival of Roman Catholicism among sensitive young men of 
the upper classes. For was not Protestantism itself the direct precursor 
of individualism, rationalism and liberalism? If a truly religious society 
alone would heal the sickness of the nineteenth century, was it not the 
only truly Christian society of the Catholic middle ages?* As usual, 
Gentz expressed the attraction of Catholicism with a clarity unsuited 
to the subject: 

‘Protestantism is the first, the true, the only source of all the vast evils 
under which we groan today. Had it merely confined itself to reasoning, we 
might have been able and obliged to tolerate it, for a tendency to argue is 
rooted in human nature. However, once governments agreed to accept 
Protestantism as a permitted form of religion, an expression of Christianity, a 
right of man; once they . .. granted it a place in the State besides, or even on 
the ruins of, the only true church, the religious, moral and political order of 

the world was immediately dissolved-The entire French Revolution, and 

the even worse revolution which is about to break over Germany, have 
sprung from this same source.’ 13 

Groups of exalted young men thus flung themselves from the horrors 
of the intellect into the welcoming arms of Rome; embracing celibacy, 
the self-torture of ascetism, the writings of the Fathers, or merely the 
warm and aesthetically satisfying ritual of the Church with a passionate 
abandon. They came, as was to be expected, mostly from Protestant 
countries: the German Romantics were in general Prussians. The 
‘Oxford Movement’ of the 1830s is the most familiar phenomenon of 
this kind to the Anglo-Saxon reader, though it is characteristically 
British inasmuch as only some of the young zealots who thus expressed 
the spirit of the most obscurantist and reactionary of universities, 
actually joined the Roman Church, notably the talented J. H. Newman 

* In Russia, where the truly Christian society of the Orthodox Church was still flourishing, 
the equivalent tendency was less one of a return to the unsullied godliness of the past, than 
one of a retreat into the limitless profundities of mysticism available in the Orthodoxy of 
the present. 



(1801-1890). The rest found a compromise resting-place as ‘ritualists’ 
within the Anglican Church, which they claimed to be a true Catholic 
Church, and attempted, to the horror of ‘low’ and ‘broad’ churchmen, 
to garnish with vestments, incense and other popish abominations. 
The new converts were a puzzle to the traditionally Catholic noble and 
gentle families, who took their religion as a family badge, and to the 
mass of Irish immigrant labourers who increasingly formed the bulk of 
British Catholicism; nor was their noble zeal wholly appreciated by the 
careful and realistic ecclesiastical officials of the Vatican. But since 
they came from excellent families, and the conversion of the upper 
classes might well herald the conversion of the lower, they were wel¬ 
comed as a heartening sign of the Church’s power to conquer. 

Yet even within organized religion—at least within the Roman 
Catholic, Protestant and Jewish kind—the sappers and miners of 
liberalism were at work. In the Roman Church their chief field of 
action was France, and their most important figure, Hugues-Felicite- 
Robert de Lamennais (1782-1854), who moved successively from 
romantic conservatism, to a revolutionary idealization of the people 
which brought him close to socialism. Lamennais’s Paroles d’un Croyant 
(1834) created uproar among governments, who scarcely expected to 
be stabbed in the back with so reliable a weapon of the status quo 
defence as Catholicism, and he was soon condemned by Rome. Liberal 
Catholicism, however, survived in France, always a country receptive 
to trends in the Church slightly at variance with those in Rome. In 
Italy also the powerful revolutionary current of the 1830s and 1840s 
pulled some Catholic thinkers into its eddies, such as Rosmini and 
Gioberti (1801-52), the champion of the liberal Italy united by the 
Pope. However, the main body of the Church was militantly and in¬ 
creasingly anti-liberal. 

Protestant minorities and sects naturally stood far closer to liberalism, 
at any rate in politics: to be a French Huguenot virtually meant to be 
at the very least a moderate liberal. (Guizot, Louis Philippe’s Prime 
Minister, was one.) Protestant State churches like the Anglican and the 
Lutheran were politically more conservative, but their theologies 
were rather less resistant to the corrosion of biblical scholarship and 
rationalist enquiry. The Jews, of course, were exposed to the full force 
of the liberal current. After all, they owed their political and social 
emancipation entirely to it. Cultural assimilation was the goal of all 
emancipated Jews. The most extreme among the evolues abandoned 
their old religion for Christian conformity or agnosticism, like the 
father of Karl Marx or the poet Heinrich Heine (who discovered, how¬ 
ever, that Jews do not cease to be Jews at least for the outside world 


ideology: religion 

when they stop going to the synagogue). The less extreme developed an 
attenuated liberal form of Judaism. Only in the small towns did the 
Torah- and Talmud-dominated life of the ghetto continue virtually un¬ 




(Mr Bentham) turns wooden utensils in a lathe for exercise, andfancies he can turn 
men in the same manner. He has no great fondness for poetry, and can hardly extract 
a moral out of Shakespeare. His house is warmed and lighted by steam. He is one of 
those who prefer the artificial to the natural in most things, and think the mind of man 
omnipotent. He has a great contempt for out-of-door prospects, for green fields and trees, 
and is for ever referring everything to Utility. 

W. Hazlitt, The Spirit of the Age (1825) 

The Communists disdain to conceal their views and aims. They openly declare that 
their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing conditions. Let 
the ruling classes tremble at a communist revolution. The proletarians have nothing to 
lose but their chains. They have a world to win. Working men of all countries, unite. 1 

K. Marx and F. Engels, Manifesto of the Communist Party (1848) 


Quantity must still make us give pride of place in the world of 
1789-1848 to religious ideology; quality to secular. With a very few 
exceptions all the thinkers of importance in our period spoke the 
secular language, whatever their private religious beliefs. Much of 
what they thought (and what ordinary people took for granted without 
much self-conscious thought) will be discussed under the more specific 
headings of science and the arts; some has already been discussed. 
Here we shall concentrate on what was after all the major theme which 
arose out of the dual revolution, the nature of society and the way it 
was going or ought to go. On this key problem there were two major 
divisions of opinion: those who accepted the way the world was going 
and those who did not; in other words those who believed in progress 
and the others. For in a sense there was only one Weltanschauung of 
major significance, and a number of other views which, whatever their 
merits, were at bottom chiefly negative critiques of it: the triumphant, 
rationalist, humanist ‘Enlightenment’ of the eighteenth century. Its 
champions believed firmly (and correcdy) that human history was an 
ascent, rather than a decline or an undulating movement about a level 
trend. They could observe that man’s scientific knowledge and technical 
control over nature increased daily. They believed that human society 
and individual man could be perfected by the same application of 


ideology: secular 

reason, and were destined to be so perfected by history. On these points 
bourgeois liberals and revolutionary proletarian socialists were at one. 

Up to 1789 the most powerful and advanced formulation of this 
ideology of progress had been classical bourgeois liberalism. Indeed, its 
fundamental system had been so firmly elaborated in the seventeenth 
and eighteenth centuries that its discussion hardly belongs to this 
volume. It was a narrow, lucid, and sharp-edged philosophy which 
found its purest exponents, as we might expect, in Britain and France. 

It was rigorously rationalist and secular; that is to say convinced of 
the ability of men in principle to understand all and to solve all ques¬ 
tions by the use of reason, and the tendency of irrational behaviour and 
institutions (among which traditionalism and all religion other than 
the rational) to obscure rather than to enlighten. Philosophically it 
tended towards materialism, or empiricism, as befitted an ideology 
which drew its force and methods from science, in this instance chiefly 
the mathematics and physics of the seventeenth century scientific revo¬ 
lution. Its general assumptions about the world and man were marked 
by a pervasive individualism, which owed more to the introspection of 
middle class individuals or the observation of their behaviour than to 
the a priori principles on which it claimed to be based, and which was 
expressed in a psychology (though the word was not yet in existence 
in 1789) that echoed seventeenth century mechanics, the so-called 
‘associationist’ school. 

In brief, for classical liberalism, the human world consisted of self- 
contained individual atoms with certain built-in passions and drives, 
each seeking above all to maximize his satisfactions and minimize his 
dissatisfactions, equal in this to all others,* and ‘naturally’ recognizing 
no limits or rights of interference with his urges. In other words, each 
man was ‘naturally’ possessed of life, liberty and the pursuit of happi¬ 
ness, as the American Declaration of Independence put it, though the 
most logical liberal thinkers preferred not to put this in the language 
of ‘natural rights’. In the course of pursuing this self-interest, each 
individual in this anarchy of equal competitors, found it advantageous 
or unavoidable to enter into certain relations with other individuals, 
and this complex of useful arrangements—which were often expressed 
in the frankly commercial terminology of ‘contract’—constituted 
society and social or political groups. Of course such arrangements and 
associations implied some diminution of man’s naturally unlimited 
liberty to do what he liked, one of the tasks of politics being to reduce 
such interference to the practicable minimum. Except perhaps for 

* The great Thomas Hobbes actually argued strongly in favour of the—for practical 
purposes—complete equality of all individuals in all respects except ‘science’. 



such irreducible sexual groups as parents and their children, the ‘man’ 
of classical liberalism (whose literary symbol was Robinson Crusoe) 
was a social animal only insofar as he co-existed in large numbers. 
Social aims were therefore the arithmetical sum of individual aims. 
Happiness (a term which caused its definers almost as much trouble 
as its pursuers) was each individual’s supreme object; the greatest 
happiness of the greatest number, was plainly the aim of society. 

In fact, pure utilitarianism , which frankly reduced all human relations 
entirely to the pattern just sketched, was confined to very tactless 
philosophers like the great Thomas Hobbes in the seventeenth century 
or very confident champions of the middle class like the school of 
British thinkers and publicists associated with the names of Jeremy 
Bentham (1748-1832), James Mill (1773-1836) and above all the 
classical political economists. For two reasons. In the first place an 
ideology which so completely reduced all except the rational calcula¬ 
tion of self-interest to ‘nonsense on stilts’ (to use Bentham’s phrase), 
conflicted with some powerful instincts of the middle class behaviour 
it aimed to advance.* Thus it could be shown that rational self-interest 
might well justify considerably greater interference in the individual’s 
‘natural liberty’ to do as he wished and to keep what he earned, than 
was at all agreeable. (Thomas Hobbes, whose works the British utili¬ 
tarians piously collected and published, had actually shown that it 
precluded any a priori limits on state power, and the Benthamites 
themselves championed bureaucratic state management when they 
thought it secured the greatest happiness of the greatest number as 
readily as laissez-faire.) Consequently those seeking to safeguard private 
property, enterprise and individual freedom often preferred to give it 
the metaphysical sanction of a ‘natural right’ rather than the vulnerable 
one of‘utility’. Moreover, a philosophy which so completely eliminated 
morality and duty by reducing them to rational calculation, might well 
weaken that sense of the eternal fitness of things among the ignorant 
poor on which social stability rested. 

Utilitarianism, for reasons such as these, therefore never monopolized 
middle class liberal ideology. It provided the sharpest of radical axes 
with which to chop down traditional institutions which could not 
answer the triumphant questions: is it rational? Is it useful? Does it 
contribute to the greatest happiness of the greatest number? But it 

* It should not be supposed that ‘self-interest’ necessarily meant an anti-social egoism. 
Humane and socially .minded utilitarians held that the satisfactions which the individual 
sought to maximize included, or might with proper education well include, ‘benevolence’ 
i.e. the urge to help one’s fellow*men. The point was that this was not a moral duty, or an 
aspect of social existence, but something which made the individual happy. ‘Interest,’ 
argued d’Holbach in his Systime de la Nature I, p. 268, ‘is nothing but what each of us considers 
necessary for his happiness.’ 


ideology: secular 

was strong enough neither to inspire a revolution nor to safeguard 
against one. The philosophically feeble John Locke rather than the 
superb Thomas Hobbes remained the favouritfe thinker of vulgar 
liberalism; for he at least put private property beyond the range of 
interference and attack as the most basic of ‘natural rights’. And the 
French Revolutionaries found it best to put their demand for free 
enterprise {‘tout citoyen est libre d’employer ses bras, son industrie et ses 
capitaux comme itjuge bon et utile d. lui-mime. ... II peut fabriquer ce qui lui 
plait et comme il lui plait’) 1 into the form of a general natural right to 
liberty {‘L’exercise des droits naturels de chaque homme n’a de homes que celles 
qui assurent aux autres membres de la societi lajouissance des mimes droits ’). 2 

In its political thought classical liberalism thus swerved from the 
daring and rigour which made it so powerful a revolutionary force. 
In its economic thought, however, it was less inhibited; partly because 
middle class confidence in the triumph of capitalism was much greater 
than confidence in the political supremacy of the bourgeoisie over 
absolutism or the ignorant mob, partly because the classical assump¬ 
tions about the nature and natural state of man undoubtedly fitted the 
special situation of the market much better than the situation of 
humanity in general. Consequently classical political economy forms, 
with Thomas Hobbes, the most impressive intellectual monument to 
liberal ideology. Its great period is slightly earlier than that with which 
this volume deals. The publication of Adam Smith’s (1723-90) 
Wealth of Nations in 1776 marks its beginning, that of David Ricardo’s 
(1792-1823) Principles of Political Economy in 1817 its peak, and 1830 
the beginning of its decline or transformation. However, its vulgarized 
version continued to gain adherents among businessmen throughout 
our period. 

The social argument of Adam Smith’s political economy was both 
elegant and comforting. It is true that humanity consisted essentially 
of sovereign individuals of a certain psychological constitution pur¬ 
suing their self-interest in competition with one another. But it could 
be shown that these activities, when left to operate so far as possible 
unchecked, produced not only a ‘natural’ social order (as distinct from 
the artificial ones imposed by aristocratic vested interest, obscurant¬ 
ism, tradition or ignorant meddling), but the most rapid possible 
increase in the ‘wealth of nations’, i.e. the comfort and wellbeing, and 
therefore the happiness, of all men. The basis of this natural order was 
the social division of labour. It could be scientifically proved that the 
existence of a class of capitalists owning the means of production 
benefited all, including the class of labourers hiring themselves out to 
its members, just as it could be scientifically proyed that the interests of 



both Britain and Jamaica were best served by the one producing 
manufactured goods and the other raw sugar. For the increase in the 
wealth of nations proceeded by the operations of property-owning 
private enterprise and the accumulation of capital, and it could be 
shown that any other method of securing it must slow it down or bring 
it to a stop. Moreover, the economically very unequal society which 
resulted inevitably from the operations of human nature, was not 
incompatible with the natural equality of all men or with justice. For 
quite apart from securing to even the poorest a better life than he would 
otherwise have had, it was based on the most equal of all relationships, 
the exchange of equivalents in the market. As a modern scholar has 
put it: ‘Nobody was dependent on the benevolence of others; for every¬ 
thing that one got from anybody, one gave an equivalent in exchange. 
Moreover, the free play of natural forces would be destructive of all 
positions that were not built upon contributions to the common good.’ 3 

Progress was therefore as ‘natural’ as capitalism. Remove the arti¬ 
ficial obstacles to it which the past had erected, and it must inevitably 
take place; and it was evident that the progress of production went 
hand in hand with that of the arts, the sciences and civilization in 
general. Let it not be supposed that the men who held such views were 
mere special pleaders for the vested interest of businessmen. They were 
men who believed, with considerable historical justification at this 
period, that the way forward for humanity was through capitalism. 

The power of this Panglossian view rested not merely on what was 
believed to be the unanswerable ability to prove its economic theorems 
by a deductive reasoning, but on the evident progress of eighteenth- 
century capitalism and civilization. Conversely, it began to falter not 
merely because Ricardo discovered contradictions within the system 
which Smith had overlooked, but because the actual economic and 
social results of capitalism proved to be less happy than had been fore¬ 
cast. Political economy in the first half of the nineteenth century became 
the ‘dismal’ rather than the rosy science. Naturally it might still be 
held that the misery of the poor who (as Malthus argued in the famous 
Essay on Population, 1798) were condemned to linger on the verge of 
starvation or who (as Ricardo argued) suffered from the introduction 
of machinery,* still constituted the greatest happiness of the greatest 
number, which merely happened to be much less than one might 
have hoped. But such facts, as well as the marked difficulties in capitalist 
expansion in the period from about 1810 to the 1840s, damped optim- 

“The opinion entertained by the labouring class, that the employment of machinery is 
frequently detrimental to their interests, is not founded on prejudice and error, but is 
conformable to the correct principles of political economy.’ Principles, p. 383. 


ideology: secular 

ism and stimulated critical enquiry, especially into distribution as against 
the production, which had chiefly pre-occupied the generation of Smith. 

David Ricardo’s political economy, a masterpiece of deductive 
rigour, thus introduced considerable elements of discord into the 
natural harmony on which the earlier economists had put their money. 
It even stressed, rather more than Smith had done, certain factors 
which might be expected to bring the engine of economic progress to 
a stop by attenuating the supply of its essential fuel, such as a tendency 
for the rate of profit to decline. What is more, he provided the basic 
general labour theory of value which only needed to be given a twist 
to be turned into a potent argument against capitalism. Nevertheless, 
his technical mastery as a thinker, and his passionate support for the 
practical objects which most British businessmen advocated—free trade 
and hostility to landlords—helped to give classical political economy 
an even firmer place in liberal ideology than before. For practical 
purposes the shock-troops of British middle class reform in the post- 
Napoleonic period were armed with a combination of Benthamite 
utilitarianism and Ricardian economics. In turn the massive achieve¬ 
ments of Smith and Ricardo, backed by those of British industry and 
trade, turned political economy into a largely British science, reducing 
the French economists (who had at the very least shared the lead in the 
eighteenth century) to the lesser role of predecessors or auxiliaries, and 
the non-classical economists to a scattering of snipers. Moreover, they 
made it an essential symbol of liberal advance. Brazil instituted a chair 
in the subject in 1808—long before France—occupied by a popularizer 
of Adam Smith, J. B. Say (the leading French economist) and the 
utilitarian anarchist William Godwin. The Argentine had hardly 
become independent, when in 1823 the ne\v university of Buenos Aires 
began to teach political economy on the basis of the already translated 
Ricardo and James Mill; but not before Cuba, which had its first chair 
as early as 1818. The fact that the actual economic behaviour of the 
Latin American rulers caused the hair of European financiers and 
economists to rise in horror, made no difference to their attachment 
to economic orthodoxy. 

In politics, as we have seen, the liberal ideology was neither as 
coherent nor as consistent. Theoretically it remained divided between 
utilitarianism and adaptations of the age-old doctrines of natural law 
and natural right, with the latter prevailing. In its practical programme 
it remained torn between a belief in popular government, i.e. majority 
rule, which had logic on its side and also reflected the fact that what 
actually made revolutions and put the effective political pressure 
behind reform was not middle class argument but the mobilization of 



the masses,* and the more prevalent belief in government by a pro¬ 
pertied £lite—between ‘radicalism’ and ‘whiggism’ to use the British 
terms. For if government really were popular, and if the majority 
really ruled (i.e. if minority interests were sacrificed to it, as was 
logically inevitable), could the actual majority—‘the most numerous 
and poorest classes’*—be relied upon to safeguard freedom and to carry 
out the dictates of reason which coincided, as was obvious, with the 
programme of middle class liberals? 

Before the French Revolution the main cause for alarm in this 
respect was the ignorance and superstition of the labouring poor, 
who were only too often under the sway of priest and king. The Revo¬ 
lution itself introduced the additional hazard of a left-wing, anti¬ 
capitalist programme, such as was implicit (and some have argued 
explicit) in certain aspects of the Jacobin dictatorship. Moderate whigs 
abroad observed this danger early: Edmund Burke, whose economic 
ideology was one of pure Adam-Smithianism, 5 retreated in his politics 
into a frankly irrationalist belief in the virtues of tradition, continuity 
and slow organic growth, which have ever since provided the theoretical 
mainstay of conservatism. Practical liberals on the continent shied 
away from political democracy, preferring a constitutional monarchy 
with property suffrage, or at a pinch, any old-fashioned absolutism 
which guaranteed their interests. After 1793-4 only an extremely 
discontented, or else an extremely self-confident bourgeoisie, such as 
that of Britain, was prepared with James Mill to trust its own capacity 
to retain the support of the labouring poor permanently even in a 
democratic republic. 

The social discontents, revolutionary movements and socialist ideolo¬ 
gies of the post-Napoleonic period intensified this dilemma and the 
1830 Revolution made it acute. Liberalism and democracy appeared 
to be adversaries rather than allies; the triple slogan of the French 
Revolution, liberty, equality, fraternity, to express a contradiction 
rather than a combination. Not unnaturally this appeared most obvious 
in the home of revolution, France. Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-59), 
who devoted a remarkably acute intellect to the analysis of the inherent 
tendencies of American democracy (1835) and later to those of the 
French Revolution, has survived best among the moderate liberal critics 
of democracy of this period; or rather he has proved particularly con¬ 
genial to moderate liberals in the western world since 1945. Perhaps 
not unnaturally in view of his dictum: ‘From the eighteenth century 

* Condorcet (1743-94), whose thought is virtually a compendium of enlightened bourgeois 
attitudes, was converted by the taking of the Bastille from a belief in limited suffrage to one 
in democracy, though with strong safeguards for the individual and for minorities. 



there flow, as from a common source, two rivers. One carries men to 
free institutions, the other to absolute power.’ 6 In Britain too James 
Mill’s sturdy confidence in a bourgeois-led democracy contrasts mark¬ 
edly with his son John Stuart Mill’s (1806-73) anxiety to safeguard 
the rights of minorities against majorities, which dominates that gener¬ 
ous but worried thinker’s On Liberty (1859). 


While the liberal ideology thus lost its original confident swoop—even 
the inevitability or desirability of progress began to be doubted by 
some liberals—a new ideology, socialism, reformulated the old eigh¬ 
teenth century verities. Reason, science and progress were its firm 
foundation. What distinguished the socialists of our period from the 
champions of a perfect society of common ownership who periodically 
break into literature throughout recorded history, was the unqualified 
acceptance of the Industrial Revolution which created the very possi¬ 
bility of modern socialism. Count Claude de Saint-Simon (1760-1825), 
who is by tradition reckoned as the pioneer ‘utopian socialist’, though 
his thought actually occupies a rather more ambiguous position, was 
first and foremost the apostle of ‘industrialism’ and ‘industrialists’ 
(two words of Saint-Simonian coinage). His disciples became socialists, 
adventurous technologists, financiers and industrialists, or both in 
succession. Saint-Simonianism thus occupies a peculiar place in the 
history of both capitalist and anti-capitalist development. Robert 
Owen (1771-1858) in Britain was himself a highly successful pioneer 
of the cotton industry, and drew his confidence in the possibility of a 
better society not merely from his firm belief in human perfectibility 
through society, but also from the visible creation of a society of poten¬ 
tial plenty by the Industrial Revolution. Frederick Engels, though reluc¬ 
tantly, was also in the cotton business. None of the new socialists wished 
to turn the clock of social evolution back, though many of their fol¬ 
lowers did. Even Charles Fourier (1772-1837), the least sanguine of the 
socialist founding fathers about industrialism, argued that the solution 
ay beyond rather than behind it. 

Moreover, the very arguments of classical liberalism could and were 
•eadily turned against the capitalist society which they had helped to 
mild. Happiness was indeed, as Saint-Just said, ‘a new idea in Europe’; 7 
sut nothing was easier than to observe that the greatest happiness of 
he greatest number, which was clearly not being achieved, was that 
if the labouring poor. Nor was it difficult, as William Godwin, Robert 
Dwen, Thomas Hodgskin and other admirers of Bentham did, to 



separate the pursuit of happiness from the assumptions of a selfish indi¬ 
vidualism. ‘The primary and necessary object of all existence is to be 
happy,’ wrote Owen, 8 ‘but happiness cannot be obtained individually; 
it is useless to expect isolated happiness; all must partake of it or the few 
will never enjoy it.’ 

More to the point, classical political economy in its Ricardian form 
could be turned against capitalism; a fact which led middle class 
economists after 1830 to view Ricardo with alarm, or even to regard 
him, with the American Carey (1793-1879), as the source of inspira¬ 
tion for agitators and disrupters of society. If, as political economy 
argued, labour was the source of all value, then why did the bulk of 
its producers live on the edge of destitution? Because, as Ricardo 
showed—though he felt uncomfortable about drawing the con¬ 
clusions of his theory—the capitalist appropriated in the form of profit 
the surplus which the worker produced over and above what he 
received back as wages. (The fact that the landlords also appropriated 
a part of this surplus did not fundamentally affect the matter.) In fact, 
the capitalist exploited the worker. It only remained to do without 
capitalists and thus to abolish exploitation. A group of Ricardian 
‘labour economists’ soon arose in Britain to make the analysis and 
point the moral. 

If capitalism had actually achieved what had been expected of it 
in the optimistic days of political economy, such criticisms would have 
lacked resonance. Contrary to what is often supposed, among the 
poor there are few ‘revolutions of rising standards’. But in the formative 
period of socialism, i.e. between the publication of Robert Owen’s 
New View of Society (1813—14)® and the Communist Manifesto (1848), 
depression, falling money-wages, heavy technological unemployment 
and doubts about the future expansive prospects of the economy were 
only too obtrusive.* Critics could therefore fix not merely on the in¬ 
justice of the economy, but on the defects of its operation, its ‘internal 
contradictions’. Eyes sharpened by antipathy thus detected the built- 
in cyclical fluctuations or ‘crises’ of capitalism (Sismondi, Wade, Engels) 
which its supporters overlooked, and indeed whose possibility a ‘law’ 
associated with the name of J. B. Say (1767-1832) denied. They could 
hardly fail to notice that the increasingly uneven distribution of 
national incomes in this period (‘the rich getting richer and the 
poor poorer’) was not an accident, but the product of the operations 
of the system. In brief, they could show not merely that capitalism was 
unjust, but that it appeared to work badly and, insofar as it worked, 
to produce the opposite results to those predicted by its champions. 

* The word ‘socialism* itself was a coinage of the 1820s. 


ideology: secular 

So far the new socialists merely made their case by pushing the 
arguments of classical Franco-British liberalism beyond the point where 
bourgeois liberals were prepared to go. Nor did the new society they 
advocated necessarily leave the traditional ground of the classical 
humanist and liberal ideal. A world in which all were happy, and every 
individual fully and freely realized his or her potentialities, in which 
freedom reigned and government that was coercion had disappeared, 
was-the ultimate aim of both liberals and socialists. What distinguishes 
the various members of the ideological family descended from human¬ 
ism and the Enlightenment, liberal, socialist, communist or anarchist, 
is not the gentle anarchy which is the utopia of all of them, but the 
methods of achieving it. At this point, however, socialism parted 
company with the classical liberal tradition. 

In the first place it broke radically with the liberal assumption that 
society was a mere aggregate or combination of its individual atoms, 
and that its motive force was their self-interest and competition. In 
doing so the socialists returned to the oldest of all human ideological 
traditions, the belief that man is naturally a communal being. Men 
naturally live together and help one another. Society was not a neces¬ 
sary but regrettable diminution of man’s unlimited natural right to do 
as he liked, but the setting of his life, happiness and individuality. The 
Smithian idea that the exchange of equivalents in the market somehow 
assured social justice, struck them as either incomprehensible or im¬ 
moral. The bulk of the common people held this view even when they 
could not express it. Many critics of capitalism reacted against the 
obvious ‘dehumanization’ of bourgeois society (the technical term 
‘alienation’, which Hegelians and the early Marx used, reflects the age- 
old concept of society as man’s ‘home’ rather than as the mere locus of 
the unattached individual’s activities) by blaming the entire course of 
civilization, rationalism, science and technology. The new socialists— 
unlike revolutionaries of the older craftsman type like the poet William 
Blake and Jean Jacques Rousseau—were careful not to do so. But they 
shared not only the traditional ideal of society as man’s home, but the 
age-old concept that before the institution of class society and property 
men had somehow lived in harmony; a concept which Rousseau ex¬ 
pressed by idealizing primitive man, and less sophisticated radical 
pamphleteers by the myth of the once free and brotherly people con¬ 
quered by alien rulers—the Saxons by the Normans, the Gauls by the 
Teutons. ‘Genius,’ said Fourier, ‘must rediscover the paths of that 
primitive happiness and adapt it to the conditions of modern industry .’ 10 
Primitive communism reached out across the centuries or the oceans 
to provide a model for the communism of the future. 



In the second place socialism adopted a form of argument which, 
if not outside the range of the classical liberal tradition, had not been 
greatly stressed within it; the evolutionary and historical. For the 
classical liberals, and indeed the earliest modern socialists, their 
proposals were natural and rational, as distinct from the artificial and 
irrational society which ignorance and tyranny had hitherto imposed 
on the world. Now that the progress of enlightenment had shown men 
what was rational, all that remained to be done was to sweep away 
the obstacles which prevented common sense from having its way. 
Indeed, the ‘utopian’ socialists (the Saint-Simonians, Owen, Fourier 
and the rest) tended to be so firmly convinced that the truth had only 
to be proclaimed to be instantly adopted by all men of education and 
sense, that initially they confined their efforts to realize socialism to a 
propaganda addressed in the first place to the influential classes—the 
workers, though they would undoubtedly benefit, were unfortunately 
an ignorant and backward group—and to the construction of, as it 
were, pilot plants of socialism—communist colonies and co-operative 
enterprises, mostly situated in the open spaces of America, where no 
traditions of historic backwardness stood in the way of men’s advance. 
Owen’s New Harmony was in Indiana, the USA contained some thirty- 
four imported or home-grown Fourieristic ‘Phalanxes’, and numerous 
colonies inspired by the Christian communist Cabet and others. The 
Saint-Simonians, less given to communal experiments, never ceased 
their search for an enlightened despot who might carry out their 
proposals, and for some time believed they had found him in the 
improbable figure of Mohammed Ali, the ruler of Egypt. 

There was an element of historic evolution in this classical rationalist 
case for the good society; for an ideology of progress implies one of 
evolution, possibly of inevitable evolution through stages of historical 
development. But it was not until Karl Marx (1818-83) transferred 
the centre of gravity of the argument for socialism from its rationality 
or desirability to its historic inevitability that socialism acquired its 
most formidable intellectual weapon, against which polemical defences 
are still being erected. Marx derived this line of argument from a 
combination of the Franco-British and the German ideological tradi¬ 
tions (English political economy, French socialism and German 
philosophy). For Marx human society had inevitably broken primitive 
communism into classes; inevitably evolved through a succession of 
class societies, each in spite of its injustices in its time ‘progressive’, 
each containing the ‘internal contradictions’ which at a certain point 
made it an obstacle to further progress and generating the forces for its 
supercession. Capitalism was the last of these, and Marx, so far from 


ideology: secular 

merely attacking it, used all his world-shaking eloquence to trumpet 
forth its historic achievements. But capitalism could be shown by means 
of political economy to possess internal contradictions which inevitably 
made it at a certain point a bar to further progress and would plunge 
it into a crisis from which it could not emerge. Capitalism, moreover 
(as could also be shown by political economy), inevitably created its 
own grave-diggers, the proletariat whose numbers and discontent 
must grow while the concentration of economic power in fewer and 
fewer hands made it more vulnerable to overthrow. Proletarian revolu¬ 
tion must therefore inevitably overthrow it. But it could also be shown 
that the social system which corresponded to the interests of the 
working class was socialism or communism. As capitalism had pre¬ 
vailed, not simply because it was more rational than feudalism, but 
because of the social force of the bourgeoisie, so socialism would prevail 
because of the inevitable victory of the workers. It was foolish to sup¬ 
pose that it was an eternal ideal, which men could have realized had 
they been intelligent enough in Louis XIV’s day. It was the child of 
capitalism. It could not even have been formulated in an adequate 
manner before the transformation of society which created the con¬ 
ditions for it. But once the conditions were there, the victory was cer¬ 
tain, for ‘mankind always sets itself only such tasks as it can solve’. 11 


Compared to these relatively coherent ideologies of progress, those of 
resistance to progress hardly deserve the name of systems of thought. 
They were rather attitudes lacking a common intellectual method, and 
relying on the acuteness of their insight into the weaknesses of bour¬ 
geois society and the unshakeable conviction that there was more in 
life than liberalism allowed for. Consequently they require relatively 
little attention. 

The chief burden of their critique was that liberalism destroyed the 
social order or community which man had hitherto regarded as essen¬ 
tial to life, replacing it by the intolerable anarchy of the competition of 
all against all (‘every man for himself and the devil take the hindmost’) 
and the dehumanization of the market. On this point conservative and 
revolutionary anti-progressives, or the representative of rich and poor 
tended to agree even with the socialists, a convergence which was very 
marked among the Romantics (see chapter 14) and produced such odd 
compendia as ‘Tory Democracy’ or ‘Feudal Socialism’. Conservatives 
tended to identify the ideal social order—or as near to the ideal as was 
practicable, for the social ambitions of the comfortable are always more 



modest than those of the poor—with whatever regime was threatened 
by the dual revolution, or with some specific state of the past, e.g. medi¬ 
eval feudalism. They also, naturally, stressed the element of‘order’ in 
it, for it was this which safeguarded those on the upper steps of the 
social hierarchy against those on the lower. Revolutionaries, as we have 
seen, thought rather of some remoter golden time in the past when 
things had gone well with the people, for no present society is ever 
really satisfactory for the poor. Also, they stressed the mutual help 
and community feeling of such an age rather than its ‘order’. 

Nevertheless both agreed that in important respects the old regime 
had been or was better than the new. In it God made them high and 
lowly and ordered their estate, which pleased conservatives, but he 
also imposed duties (however light and badly carried out) on the high. 
Men were unequally human, but they were not commodities valued 
according to the market. Above all they lived together, in tight net¬ 
works of social and personal relationships, guided by the clear map of 
custom, social institutions and obligation. Doubtless Metternich’s secre¬ 
tary Gentz and the British radical demogogue and journalist William 
Cobbett (1762-1835) had a very different medieval ideal in mind, but 
both equally attacked the Reformation which had, they held, intro¬ 
duced the principles of bourgeois society. And even Frederick Engels, 
the firmest of the believers in progress, painted a notably idyllic picture 
of the old eighteenth-century society which the Industrial Revolution 
had disrupted. 

Having no coherent theory of evolution, the anti-progressive thinkers 
found it hard to decide what had ‘gone wrong’. Their favourite culprit 
was reason, or more specifically eighteenth-century rationalism, which 
sought foolishly and impiously to meddle with matters too complex for 
human understanding and organization: societies could not be planned 
like machines. ‘It were better to forget, once for all,’ wrote Burke, ‘the 
encyclopMie and the whole body of economists, and to revert to those old 
rules and principles which have hitherto made princes great and nations 
happy.’ 1 ® Instinct, tradition, religious faith, ‘human nature’, ‘true’ as 
opposed to ‘false’ reason, were marshalled, depending on the intel¬ 
lectual bent of the thinker, against systematic rationalism. But above 
all its conqueror was to be histoiy. 

For if conservative thinkers had no sense of historical progress, they 
had a very acute sense of the difference between societies formed and 
stabilized naturally and gradually by history as against those established 
suddenly by ‘artifice’. If they could not explain how historical clothes 
were tailored, and indeed denied that they were, they could explain 
admirably how they were made comfortable by long wear. The most 


ideology: secular 

serious intellectual effort of the anti-progressive ideology went into 
historical analysis and the rehabilitation of the past, the investigation 
of continuity as against revolution. Its most important exponents were 
therefore not the freakish French emigres like De Bonald (1753-1840) 
and Joseph De Maistre (1753-1821) who sought to rehabilitate a dead 
past, often by rationalist arguments verging on the lunatic, even if their 
object was to establish the virtues of irrationalism, but men like 
Edmund Burke in England and the German ‘historical school’ of 
jurists who legitimized a still existing old regime in terms of its historic 


It remains to consider a group of ideologies poised oddly between the 
progressive and the anti-progressive, or in social terms, between the 
industrial bourgeois and proletarian on one side, the aristocratic, 
mercantile classes and the feudal masses on the other. Their most 
important bearers were the radical ‘little men’ of Western Europe and 
the United States and the modest middle classes of Central and South¬ 
ern Europe, comfortably but not wholly satisfactorily ensconced in the 
framework of an aristocratic and monarchical society. Both in some 
ways believed in progress. Neither was prepared to follow it to its 
logical liberal or socialist conclusions; the former because these would 
have doomed the small craftsmen, shopkeepers, farmers and business¬ 
men to be transformed either into capitalists or labourers, the latter 
because they were too weak and after the experience of the Jacobin 
dictatorship too frightened, to challenge the power of their princes; 
whose officials in many cases they were. The views of both these groups 
therefore combine liberal (and in the first case implicitly socialist) 
components with anti-liberal, progressive with anti-progressive ones. 
Moreover, this essential complexity and contradictoriness allowed them 
to see more deeply into the nature of society than either liberal pro¬ 
gressives or anti-progressives. It forced them into dialectics. 

The most important thinker (or rather intuitive genius) of this first 
group of petty-bourgeois radicals was already dead in 1789: Jean 
Jacques Rousseau. Poised between pure individualism and the con¬ 
viction that man is only himself in a community, between the ideal of 
the state based on reason and the suspicion of reason as against ‘feeling’, 
between the recognition that progress was inevitable and the certainty 
that it destroyed the harmony of ‘natural’ primitive man, he expressed 
his own personal dilemma as well as that of classes which could neither 
accept the liberal certainties of factory-owners nor the socialist ones of 



proletarians. The views of this disagreeable, neurotic, but, alas, great 
man need not concern us in detail, for there was no specific Rousseauist 
school of thought or, except for Robespierre and the Jacobins of the 
Year II, of politics. His intellectual influence was pervasive and strong, 
especially in Germany and among the Romantics, but it was not that 
of a system but of an attitude and a passion. His influence among 
plebeian and petty-bourgeois radicals was also immense, but perhaps 
only among the most woolly-minded, such as Mazzini and nationalists 
of his sort, was it predominant. In general it fused with much more 
orthodox adaptations of eighteenth-century rationalism, such as those 
of Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) and Thomas Paine (1737-1809). 

Recent academic fashions have tended to misunderstand him pro¬ 
foundly. They have ridiculed the tradition which bracketed him with 
Voltaire and the Eycyclopaedists as a pioneer of the Enlightenment and 
the Revolution, because he was their critic. But those who were in¬ 
fluenced by him then regarded him as part of the Enlightenment, and 
those who reprinted his works in small radical workshops in the early 
nineteenth century automatically did so in company with Voltaire, 
d’Holbach and the rest. Recent liberal critics have attacked him as 
the ancestor of‘totalitarianism’ on the left. But in fact he exercised no 
influence at all on the main tradition of modern communism and 
Marxism.* His typical followers have been throughout our period and 
since, petty-bourgeois radicals of the Jacobin, Jeffersonian and Mazzini 
type: believers in democracy, nationalism and a state of small inde¬ 
pendents with equal distribution of property and some welfare activities. 
In our period he was believed to stand above all for equality, for freedom 
against tyranny and exploitation (‘man is born free but everywhere he 
is in chains’), for democracy against oligarchy, for the simple ‘natural 
man’ unspoiled by the sophistications of the rich and educated, and for 
‘feeling 1 against cold calculation. 

The second group, which can perhaps best be called that of German 
philosophy, was far more complex. Moreover, since its members had 
neither the power to overthrow their societies nor the economic re¬ 
sources to make an Industrial Revolution, they tended to concentrate 
on the construction of elaborate general systems of thought. There 
were few classical liberals in Germany. Wilhelm von Humboldt 
(1767-1835), the brother of the great scientist, is the most notable. 
Among German middle and upper class intellectuals a belief in the 
inevitability of progress and in the benefits of scientific and economic 

* In almost forty years of correspondence with each other, Marx and Engels mentioned 
him just three times, casually, and rather negatively. However, in passing they appreciated 
his dialectical approach with anticipated Hegel’s. 


ideology: secular 

advance, combined with a belief in the virtues of an enlightened 
paternal or bureaucratic administration and a sense of responsibility 
among the upper orders was perhaps the most common attitude, well 
suited to a class containing so many civil servants and state-employed 
professors. The great Goethe, himself minister and privy councillor of 
a petty state, illustrates this attitude well. 13 Middle class demands— 
often philosophically formulated as the inevitable working out of the 
tendencies of history—carried out by an enlightened state: these repre¬ 
sented German moderate liberalism best. The fact that German states 
at their best had always taken a lively and efficient initiative in the 
organization of economic and educational progress, and that complete 
laissez-faire was not a particularly advantageous policy for German 
businessmen, did not diminish the appeal of this attitude. 

However, though we can thus assimilate the practical outlook of the 
German middle class thinkers (allowing for the peculiarities of their 
historic position) to that of their opposite numbers in other countries, 
it is not certain that we can in this way explain the very marked cool¬ 
ness towards classical liberalism in its pure form which runs through 
much German thought. The liberal commonplaces—philosophical 
materialism or empiricism, Newton, Cartesian analysis and the rest— 
made most German thinkers acutely uncomfortable; mysticism, sym¬ 
bolism and vast generalizations about organic wholes visibly attracted 
them. Possibly a nationalist reaction against the French culture which 
predominated in the earlier eighteenth century helped to intensify this 
teutonism of German thought. More likely the persistence of the intel¬ 
lectual atmosphere of the last age in which Germany had been eco¬ 
nomically, intellectually, and to some extent politically, predominant 
accounts for it; for the decline of the period between the Reformation 
and the later eighteenth century had preserved the archaism of the 
German intellectual tradition just as it preserved unchanged the 
sixteenth-century look of small German towns. At all events the funda¬ 
mental atmosphere of German thought—whether in philosophy, science 
or the arts—differed markedly from the main tradition of the eighteenth 
century in Western Europe.* At a time when the classical eighteenth- 
century view was approaching its limits, this gave German thought 
some advantage, and helps to explain its increasing intellectual influ¬ 
ence in the nineteenth century. 

Its most monumental expression was German classical philosophy, 
a body of thought created between 1760 and 1830 together with classical 

* This does not apply to Austria, which had passed through a very different history. The 
main characteristic of Austrian thought was that there was none at all that deserves mention, 
though in the arts (especially music, architecture and the theatre) and in some applied 
sciences, the Austrian Empire was very distinguished. 



German literature, and in close connection with it. (It must not be 
forgotten that the poet Goethe was a scientist and ‘natural philosopher’ 
of distinction and the poet Schiller not only a professor of history* but 
a distinguished author of philosophical treatises.) Immanuel Kant 
(1724-1804) and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831) are 
its two great luminaries. After 1830 the process of disintegration which 
we have already seen in action at the same time within classical 
political economy (the intellectual flower of eighteenth-century ration¬ 
alism) also occurred within German philosophy. Its products were 
the ‘Young Hegelians’ and eventually Marxism. 

German classical philosophy was, it must always be remembered, 
a thoroughly bourgeois phenomenon. All its leading figures (Kant, 
Hegel, Fichte, Schelling) hailed the French Revolution and indeed 
remained loyal to it for a considerable time—Hegel championed 
Napoleon as late as the battle of Jena (1806). The Enlightenment was 
the framework of Kant’s typically eighteenth-century thought, and the 
starting-point of Hegel’s. The philosophy of both was profoundly 
impregnated with the idea of progress: Kant’s first great achievement 
was to suggest a hypothesis of the origin and development of the solar 
system, while Hegel’s entire philosophy is one of evolution (or, in social 
terms, historicity) and necessary progress. Thus while Hegel from the 
very beginning disliked the extreme left wing of the French Revolution 
and eventually became utterly conservative, he never for a moment 
doubted the historic necessity of that revolution as the foundation of 
bourgeois society. Moreover, unlike most subsequent academic philoso¬ 
phers, Kant, Fichte and notably Hegel studied some economics (the 
Physiocrats in Fichte’s case, the British in Kant and Hegel’s); and there 
is reason to believe that Kant and the young Hegel would have regarded 
themselves as persuaded by Adam Smith. 14 

This bourgeois bent of German philosophy is in one respect more 
obvious in Kant, who remained all his life a man of the liberal left— 
among his last writings (1795) is a noble plea for universal peace 
through a world federation of republics which would renounce war— 
but in another more obscure than in Hegel. For in Kant’s thought, 
confined in the bare and modest professor’s lodgings in remote Prussian 
Koenigsberg, the social content which is so specific in British and 
French thought is reduced to an austere, if sublime, abstraction; 
particularly the moral abstraction of ‘the wiH’.f Hegel’s thought is, as 

* His historical dramas—except the Wallenstein trilogy—contain so many poetic inac¬ 
curacies that one would not have thought so. 

t Thus Lukacs shows that the very concrete Smithian paradox of the ‘hidden hand', 
which produces socially beneficient results from the selfish antagonism of individuals, in Kant 
becomes the pure abstraction of an ‘unsocial sociability’. Der Junge Hegel, p. 409. 


ideology: secular 

all readers are painfully aware, abstract enough. Yet it is, at least 
initially, far clearer that his abstractions are attempts to come to terms 
with society—bourgeois society; and indeed in his analysis of labour as 
the fundamental factor in humanity (‘man makes tools because he is 
a reasonable being, and this is the first expression of his Will’, as he 
said in his lectures of 1805-6) 15 Hegel wielded, in an abstract manner, 
the same tools as the classical liberal economists, and incidentally 
provided one of the foundations for Marx. 

Nevertheless, from the very beginning German philosophy differed 
from classic liberalism in important respects, more notably in Hegel 
than in Kant. In the first place it was deliberately idealist, rejecting 
the materialism or empiricism of the classical tradition. In the second 
place, while the basic unit of Kant’s philosophy is the individual—even 
if in the form of the individual conscience—Hegel’s starting-point is the 
collective (i.e. the community), which he admittedly sees disintegrating 
into individuals under the impact of historical development. And 
indeed Hegel’s famous dialectic, the theory of progress (in whatever 
field) through the never-ending resolution of contradictions, may well 
have received its initial stimulus from this profound consciousness of 
the contradiction between individual and collective. Moreover, from 
the very beginning their position on the margins of the area of whole¬ 
hearted bourgeois-liberal advance, and perhaps their inability com¬ 
pletely to participate in it, made German thinkers much more aware 
of its limits and contradictions. No doubt it was inevitable, but did it 
not bring huge losses as well as huge gains? Must it not in turn be 

We therefore find classical, but especially Hegelian, philosophy runs 
oddly parallel with Rousseau’s dilemma-ridden view of the world, 
though, unlike him, the philosophers made titanic efforts to include 
their contradictions in single, all-embracing, intellectually coherent 
systems. (Rousseau, incidentally, had an immense emotional influence 
on Immanuel Kant, who is said to have broken his invariable habit of 
taking a regular afternoon constitutional only twice, once for the fall 
of the Bastille and once—for several days—for the reading of Emile.) 
In practice the disappointed philosophical revolutionaries faced the 
problem of ‘reconciliation’ with reality, which in Hegel’s case took the 
form, after years of hesitation—he remained in two minds about 
Prussia until after the fall of Napoleon and, like Goethe, took no interest 
in the wars of liberation—of an idealization of the Prussian state. In 
theory the transitoriness of the historically doomed society was built 
into their philosophy. There was no absolute truth. The development 
of the historic process itself, which took place through the dialectic of 



contradiction and was apprehended by a dialectical method, or so at 
least the ‘Young Hegelians’ of the 1830s concluded, ready to follow the 
logic of German classical philosophy beyond the point at which their 
great teacher himself wished to halt (for he was anxious, somewhat 
illogically, to end history with the cognition of the Absolute Idea), as 
after 1830 they were ready to re-enter the road of revolution which 
their elders had either abandoned or (like Goethe) never chosen to 
walk. But the issue of revolution in 1830-48 was no longer the simple 
conquest of middle class liberal power. And the intellectual revolu¬ 
tionary who emerged from the disintegration of classical German 
philosophy was not a Girondin or a Philosophic Radical, but Karl 

Thus the period of the dual revolution saw both the triumph and 
the most elaborate formulation of the middle class liberal and petty- 
bourgeois radical ideologies, and their disintegration under the impact 
of the states and societies they had themselves set out to create, or at 
least to welcome. 1830, which marks the revival of the major west- 
European revolutionary movement after the quiescence of the Waterloo 
period, also marks the beginning of their crisis. They were to survive 
it, though in a diminished form: no classical liberal economist of the 
later period had the stature of Smith or Ricardo (certainly not J. S. 
Mill, who became the representative British liberal economist-philoso¬ 
pher from the 1840s), no classical German philosopher was to have 
Kant’s and Hegel’s scope or power, and the Girondins and Jacobins of 
France in 1830, 1848 and after are pygmies compared to their ancestors 
of 1789-94. For that matter the Mazzinis of the mid-nineteenth century 
cannot compare with the Jean-Jacques Rousseaus of the eighteenth. 
But the great tradition—the mainstream of intellectual development 
since the Renaissance—did not die; it was transformed into its opposite. 
Marx was, in stature and approach, the heir of classical economists and 
philosophers. But the society whose prophet and architect he hoped to 
become, was a very different one from theirs. 



There is always a fashionable taste: a taste for driving the mail—a taste for acting 
Hamlet—a taste for philosophical lectures—a taste for the marvellous—a taste for the 
simple—a taste for the brilliant—a taste for the sombre—a taste for the tender — 
a taste for the grim—a taste for banditti—a taste for ghosts—a taste for the devil — 
a taste for French dancers and Italian singers, and German whiskers and tragedies — 
a taste for enjoying the country in November and wintering in London till the end of the 
dogdays—a taste for making shoes—a taste for picturesque tours—a taste for taste itself , 
or for essays on taste. 

The Hon Mrs Pinmoney in T. L. Peacock, Melincourt (1816) 

In proportion to the wealth of the country , how few in Great Britain are the 
buildings of any note . . how little is the absorption of capital in museums , pictures , 
gems, curiosities , palaces , theatres or other unreproductive objects! This which is the 
main foundation of the greatness of the country , is often stated by foreign travellers , 
and by some of our own periodical writers , as a proof of our inferiority . 

S. Laing, Notes of a Traveller on the Social and Political State of France , 
Prussia , Switzerland , Italy and other parts of Europe , 1842 1 


The first thing which strikes anyone who attempts to survey the 
development of the arts in this period of dual revolution is their extra¬ 
ordinary flourishing state. A half-century which includes Beethoven 
and Schubert, the mature and old Goethe, the young Dickens, Dostoiev¬ 
sky, Verdi and Wagner, the last of Mozart and all or most of Goya, 
Pushkin and Balzac, not to mention a regiment of men who would be 
giants in any other company, can stand comparison with any other 
period of similar length in the world’s history. Much of this extra¬ 
ordinary record is due to the revival and expansion of the arts appealing 
to a literate public in practically all European countries which possessed 

Rather than weary the reader with a long catalogue of names it may 
be best to illustrate the width and depth of this cultural revival by 
taking occasional cross-sections through our period. Thus in 1798-1801 
the citizen with an appetite for novelty in the arts could enjoy the 
Lyrical Ballads of Wordsworth and Coleridge in English, several works 

* Those of non-European civilizations will not be considered here, except insofar as they 
were affected by the dual revolution, which was at this period hardly at all. 


the age of revolution 

by Goethe, Schiller, Jean Paul and Novalis in German, while listening 
to Haydn’s Creation and Seasons and Beethoven’s First Symphony and 
first string quartets. In these years J-L David completed his Portrait 
of Madame Recamier and Goya his Portrait of the Family of King Charles IV. 
In 1824-6 he or she could have read several new novels by Walter Scott 
in English, Leopardi’s poems and Manzoni’s Promessi Sposi in Italian, 
Victor Hugo’s and Alfred de Vigny’s poems in French and, if suitably 
situated, the early parts of Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin in Russian, and 
newly edited Norse sagas. Beethoven’s Choral Symphony, Schubert’s 
Death and the Maiden, Chopin’s first work, Weber’s 0 heron, date from 
these years as do Delacroix’s painting of The Massacre at Chios and 
Constable’s The Hay Wain. Ten years later (1834-6) literature produced 
Gogol’s Inspector-General and Pushkin’s Queen of Spades, in France, 
Balzac’s PSre Goriot and works by Musset, Hugo, Theophile Gautier, 
Vigny, Lamartine and Alexander Dumas the Elder, in Germany works 
by Buechner, Grabbe and Heine, in Austria by Grillparzer and 
Nestroy, in Denmark by Hans Andersen, in Poland Mickiewicz’s Pan 
Tadeusz, in Finland the fundamental edition of the national epic 
Kalevala, in Britain poetry by Browning and Wordsworth. Music pro¬ 
vided operas by Bellini and Donizetti in Italy, by Chopin in Poland, 
by Glinka in Russia; Constable painted in England, Caspar David 
Friedrich in Germany. A year or two on either side of this triennium 
brings us within reach of Dickens’s Pickwick Papers, of Carlyle’s French 
Revolution, of Goethe’s Faust Part II, of poems by Platen, Eichendorff 
and Moerike in Germany, of important contributions to Flemish and 
Hungarian literature as well as of further publications by the chief 
French, Polish and Russian writers; of Schumann’s Davidsbuendlertaenze 
and Berlioz’s Requiem in music. 

Two things are evident from these casual samplings. The first is the 
extraordinarily wide spread of artistic achievement among the nations. 
This was new. In the first half of the nineteenth century Russian 
literature and music suddenly emerged as a world force, as, in a very 
much more modest way, did the literature of the USA with Fenimore 
Cooper (1787-1851), Edgar Allan Poe.(1809-49) and Herman Mel¬ 
ville (1819-91). So did Polish and Hungarian literature and music, 
and, at least in the form of the publication of folksong, fairy-tale and 
epic, the literature of the North and the Balkans. Moreover, in several 
of these newly-minted literate cultures, achievement was immediate 
and unsurpassed: Pushkin (1799-1837) for instance remains the classic 
Russian poet, Mickiewicz (1798-1855) the greatest Polish, Petoefi 
(1823-49) the Hungarian national poet. 

The second evident fact is the exceptional development of certain 



arts and genres. Literature is a case in point, and within literature the 
novel. Probably no half-century contains a greater concentration of 
immortal novelists: Stendhal and Balzac in France, Jane Austen, 
Dickens, Thackeray and the Brontes in England, Gogol and the young 
Dostoievsky and Turgenev in Russia. (Tolstoi’s first writing appeared 
in the 1850s.) Music is perhaps an even more striking case. The standard 
concert repertoire still rests largely on the composers active in this 
period—Mozart and Haydn, though these belong really to an earlier 
age, Beethoven and Schubert, Mendelssohn, Schumann, Chopin and 
Liszt. The ‘classic’ period of instrumental music was mainly one of 
German and Austrian achievement but one genre, opera, flourished 
more widely and perhaps more successfully than any other: with 
Rossini, Donizetti, Bellini and the young Verdi in Italy, with Weber 
and the young Wagner (not to mention the last two operas of Mozart) 
in Germany, Glinka in Russia and several lesser figures in France. The 
record of the visual arts, on the other hand, is less brilliant, with the 
partial exception of painting. Admittedly Spain produced in Francisco 
Goya y Lucientes (1746-1828) one of its intermittent great artists, and 
one of the handful of supreme painters of all time. It may be argued 
that British painting (with J. M. W. Turner, 1775-1851, and John 
Constable, 1776-1837) reached a peak of achievement and originality 
somewhat higher than in the eighteenth century, and was certainly 
more internationally influential than ever before or since; it may also 
be held that French painting (withJ-L David, 1748-1825, J-L Gericault, 
1791-1824, J-D Ingres, 1780-1867, F-E Delacroix 1790-1863, Honore 
Daumier, 1808-79, and the young Gustave Courbet, 1819-77) was 
as eminent as it has ever been in its distinguished history. On the other 
hand Italian painting virtually came to the end of its centuries-old 
glory, German painting came nowhere near the unique triumphs of 
German literature or music, or its own sixteenth century. Sculpture 
in all countries was markedly less distinguished than in the eighteenth 
century and so, in spite of some notable achievements in Germany 
and Russia, was architecture. Indeed the greatest architectural achieve¬ 
ments of the period were undoubtedly the work of engineers. 

What determines the flowering or wilting of the arts at any period 
is still very obscure. However, there is no doubt that between 1789 and 
1848 the answer must be sought first and foremost in the impact of the 
dual revolution. If a single misleading sentence is to sum up the relations 
of artist and society in this era, we might say that the French Revo¬ 
lution inspired him by its example, the Industrial Revolution by its 
horror, and the bourgeois society, which emerged from both, trans¬ 
formed his very existence and modes of creation. 



That artists were in this period directly inspired by and involved in 
public affairs is not in doubt. Mozart wrote a propagandist opera for 
the highly political Freemasonry (The Magic Flute in 1790), Beethoven 
dedicated the Eroica to Napoleon as the heir of the French Revolution, 
Goethe was at least a working statesman and civil servant. Dickens 
wrote novels to attack social abuses, Dostoievsky was to be sentenced 
to death in 1849 for revolutionary activities. Wagner and Goya went 
into political exile, Pushkin was punished for being involved with the 
Decembrists, and Balzac’s entire ‘Human Comedy’ is a monument of 
social awareness. Never has it been less true to describe creative 
artists as ‘uncommitted’. Those who were, the gentle decorators of 
rococo palaces and boudoirs or the suppliers of collectors’ pieces for 
visiting English milords, were precisely the ones whose art wilted away: 
how many of us remember that Fragonard survived the Revolution 
by seventeen years? Even the apparently least political of arts, music, 
had the strongest political associations. This was perhaps the only 
period in history when operas were written as, or taken to be, political 
manifestoes and triggered off revolutions.* 

The link between public affairs and the arts is particularly strong in 
the countries where national consciousness and movements of national 
liberation or unification were developing (cf. chapter 7). It is plainly 
no accident that the revival or birth of national literate cultures in 
Germany, Russia, Poland, Hungary, the Scandinavian countries and 
elsewhere should coincide with—and indeed should often be the first 
manifestation of—the assertion of the cultural supremacy of the ver¬ 
nacular language and of the native people, against a cosmopolitan 
aristocratic culture often employing a foreign language. Naturally 
enough, such nationalism found its most obvious cultural expression in 
literature and in music; both public arts, which could, moreover, draw 
On the powerful creative heritage of the common people—language and 
folksong. It is equally understandable that the arts traditionally depen¬ 
dent on commissions from the established ruling classes, courts and 
governments, architecture and sculpture and to a lesser extent painting, 
reflected these national revivals less.f Italian opera flourished as never 

* Apart from The Magic Flute , wc may mention Verdi’s ear\y operas, which were applauded 
as expressions of Italian nationalism, Auber’s La Muette de Portici which set off the Belgian 
revolution of 1830, Glinka’s A Life for the Tsar and various 'national operas’ such as the 
Hungarian Hunyady Ldsztt (1844), which still keep their place in the local repertoire for their 
associations with early nationalism. 

t The absence of a sufficiently large literate and politically conscious population over most 
of Europe limited the exploitation of such newly invented cheap reproductive arts as litho¬ 
graphy. But the remarkable achievements of great and revolutionary artists in this and 
similar mediums—e.g. Goya’s Disasters of War and Caprichos y William Blake’s visionary illus¬ 
trations and Daumier's lithographs and newspaper cartoons, show how strong the attractions 
of these propagandist techniques were. 



before as a popular rather than a court art; Italian painting and 
architecture died, Of course it must not be forgotten that these new 
national cultures were confined to a minority of the literate and the 
middle or upper classes. Except perhaps for Italian opera and the 
reproducible forms of graphic art, and a few shorter poems or songs, 
none of the great artistic achievements of this period were within 
reach of the illiterate or the poor, and most inhabitants of Europe 
were almost certainly unaware of them, until mass national or political 
movements turned them into collective symbols. Literature, of course, 
would have the widest circulation, though mainly among the growing 
new middle classes, who provided a particularly grateful market 
(especially among their unemployed womenfolk) for novels and long 
narrative poetry. Successful authors have rarely enjoyed greater relative 
prosperity: Byron received £2,600 for the first three cantos of Childe 
Harold. The stage, though socially much more restricted, also reached 
a public of thousands. Instrumental music did less well, outside 
bourgeois countries like England and France and culture-starved ones 
like the Americas where large public concerts were well established. 
(Hence several continental composers and virtuosos had their eye 
firmly on the lucrative, if otherwise undiscriminating English market.) 
Elsewhere court-employment, the subscription concert, maintained by 
a limited local patriciate or private and amateur performance, still 
held the field. Painting, of course, was destined for the individual 
purchaser and disappeared from sight after its original display at public 
exhibitions for sale or private dealers; though such public exhibitions 
were now well established. The museums and art galleries which were 
founded or opened to the public in this period (e.g. the Louvre and 
the British National Gallery, founded in 1826) displayed the art of 
the past rather than the present. The etching, print and lithograph, on 
the other hand, was ubiquitous, because it was cheap and began to 
penetrate the newspapers. Architecture, of course, continued to work 
mainly (except for a certain amount of speculative building of private 
dwellings) on individual or public commission. 


But even the arts of a small minority in society can still echo the 
thunder of the earthquakes which shake all humanity. The literature 
and arts of our period did so, and the result was ‘Romanticism’. As a 
style, a school, an era in the arts, nothing is harder to define or even to 
describe in terms of formal analysis; not even ‘classicism’ against which 
‘romanticism’ claimed to raise the banner of revolt. The romantics 

a 57 


themselves hardly help us, for though their own descriptions of what 
they were after were firm and decided, they were also often quite 
devoid of rational content. For Victor Hugo romanticism ‘set out to 
do what nature does, to blend with nature’s creations, while at the 
same time not mixing them all together: shadow and light, the gro¬ 
tesque and the sublime—in other words the body and the soul, the 
animal with the spiritual’. 2 For Charles Nodier ‘this last resort of the 
human heart, tired of ordinary feelings, is what is called the romantic 
genre: strange poetry, quite appropriate to the moral condition of 
society, to the needs of surfeited generations who cry for sensation at 
any cost . . .’* Novalis thought romanticism meant giving ‘a higher 
meaning to what is customary, an infinite look to the finite’. 4 Hegel 
held that ‘the essence of Romantic art lies in the artistic object’s being 
free, concrete, and the spiritual idea in its very essence—all this 
revealed to the inner rather than the outer eye’. 6 Little illumination is 
to be derived from such statements, which is to be expected, for the 
romantics preferred dim and flickering or diffused lights to clear 

And yet, though it eludes the classifier, who finds its origins and 
conclusion dissolve as he tries to pin dates on them and its criteria 
turn into shapeless generalities as soon as he tries to define them, 
nobody seriously doubts the existence of romanticism or our capacity 
to recognize it. In the narrow sense it emerged as a self-conscious and 
militant trend in the arts, in Britain, France and Germany around 
1800 (at the end of the decade of the French Revolution) and over a 
much wider area of Europe and North America after Waterloo. It was 
preceded before the Revolutions (again chiefly in France and Germany) 
by what has been called the ‘pre-romanticism’ of Jean-Jacques Rous¬ 
seau, and the ‘storm and stress’ of the young German poets. Probably 
the revolutionary era of 1830-48 saw its greatest European vogue. In 
a wider sense it dominates several of the creative arts of Europe from 
the French Revolution onwards. In this sense the ‘romantic’ elements 
in a composer like Beethoven, a painter like Goya, a poet like Goethe, 
a novelist like Balzac, are crucial parts of their greatness, as they are 
not in, let us say, Haydn or Mozart, Fragonard or Reynolds, Mathias 
Claudius or Choderlos de Laclos (all of whom survived into our period) ; 
though none of these men could be described entirely as ‘romantics’ 
or would have described themselves as such.* In a yet wider sense 
the approach to art and artists characteristic of romanticism became 

* Since ‘romanticism’ was often the slogan and manifesto of restricted groups of artists, 
we risk giving it an unhistorically restricted sense if we confine it entirely to them; or entirely 
exclude those who disagreed with them. 



the standard approach of nineteenth-century middle class society, and 
still retains much of its influence. 

However, though it is by no means clear what romanticism stood 
for, it is quite evident what it was against: the middle. Whatever its 
content, it was- an extremist creed. Romantic artists or thinkers in the 
narrower sense are found on the extreme left, like the poet Shelley* on 
the extreme right, like Chateaubriand and Novalis, leaping from left 
to right like Wordsworth, Coleridge and numerous disappointed 
supporters of the French Revolution, leaping from royalism to the 
extreme left like Victor Hugo, but hardly ever among the moderates 
or whig-liberals in the rationalist centre, which indeed was the strong¬ 
hold of‘classicism’. ‘I have no respect for the Whigs,’ said the old Tory 
Wordsworth, ‘but I have a great deal of the Chartist in me’. 8 It would 
be too much to call it an anti-bourgeois creed, for the revolutionary 
and conquistador element in young classes still about to storm heaven 
fascinated the romantics also. Napoleon became one of their myth- 
heroes, like Satan, Shakespeare, the Wandering Jew and other tres¬ 
passers beyond the ordinary limits of life. The demonic element in 
capitalist accumulation, the limitless and uninterrupted pursuit of more, 
beyond the calculation of rationality or purpose, need or the extremes 
of luxury, haunted them. Some of their most characteristic heroes, 
Faustus and Don Juan, share this unappeasable greed with the business 
buccaneers of Balzac’s novels. And yet the romantic element remained 
subordinate, even in the phase of bourgeois revolution. Rousseau pro¬ 
vided some of the accessories of the French Revolution, but he domi¬ 
nated it only in the one period in which it went beyond bourgeois 
liberalism, that of Robespierre. And even so, its basic costume was 
Roman, rationalist and neo-classic. David was its painter, Reason its 
Supreme Being. 

Romanticism is therefore not simply classifiable as an anti-bourgeois 
movement. Indeed, in the pre-romanticism of the decades before the 
French Revolution, many of its characteristic slogans had been used 
for the glorification of the middle class, whose true and simple, not to 
say mawkish, feeling had been favourably contrasted with the stiff 
upper lip of a corrupt society, and whose spontaneous reliance on nature 
was destined, it was believed, to sweep aside the artifice of court and 
clericalism. However, once bourgeois society had in fact triumphed in 
the French and Industrial Revolutions, romanticism unquestionably 
became its instinctive enemy and can be justly described as 

No doubt much of its passionate, confused,' but profound, revulsion 
against bourgeois society was due to the vested interest of the two groups 



which provided its shock-troops: socially displaced young men and 
professional artists. There had never been a period for young artists, 
living or dying, like the romantic: the Lyrical Ballads (1798) were the 
work of men in their twenties, Byron became famous overnight at 
twenty-four, an age at which Shelley was famous and Keats was almost 
in his grave. Hugo’s poetic career began when he was twenty, Musset’s 
at twenty-three. Schubert wrote Erlkoenig at the age of eighteen and was 
dead at thirty-one, Delacroix painted the Massacre of Chios at twenty- 
five, Petoefi published his Poems at twenty-one. An unmade reputation 
or an unproduced masterpiece by thirty is a rarity among the romantics. 
Youth—especially intellectual or student youth—was their natural 
habitat; it was in this period that the Quartier Latin of Paris became, 
for the first time since the middle ages, not merely a place where the 
Sorbonne was, but a cultural (and political) concept. The contrast 
between a world theoretically wide open to talent and in practice, 
with cosmic injustice, monopolized by soulless bureaucrats and pot¬ 
bellied philistines, cried to the heavens. The shades of the prison-house 
—marriage, respectable career, absorption into philistinism—sur¬ 
rounded them, and birds of night in the shape of their elders predicted 
(only too often with accuracy) their inevitable sentence, as Registrator 
Heerbrand in E. T. A. Hoffmann’s Goldener Topf predicts (‘smiling 
cunningly and mysteriously’) the appalling future of a Court Councillor 
for the poetic student Anselmus. Byron was clear-headed enough to 
foresee that only an early death was likely to save him from a ‘respec¬ 
table’ old age, and A. W. Schlegel proved him right. There is, of course, 
nothing universal in this revolt of the young against their elders. It 
was itself a reflection of the society created by the double revolution. 
Yet the specific historic form of this alienation certainly coloured a 
great part of romanticism. 

So, to an even greater extent, did the alienation of the artist who 
reacted to it by turning himself into ‘the genius’, one of the most 
characteristic inventions of the romantic era. Where the social function 
of the artist is clear, his relation to the public direct, the question what 
he is to say and how to say it answered by tradition, morality, reason 
or some other accepted standard, an artist may be a genius, but rarely 
behaves like one. The few who anticipate the nineteenth century 
pattern—a Michelangelo, Caravaggio or Salvator Rosa—stand out 
from the army of men with the standards of professional craftsmen and 
entertainers, the John Sebastian Bachs, Handels, Haydns and Mozarts, 
the Fragonards and Gainsboroughs of the pre-revolutionary age. Where 
something like the old social situation persisted after the double revo¬ 
lution, the artist continued as a non-genius, though very likely a vain 



one. Architects and engineers on specific orders continued to produce 
structures of obvious use which imposed clearly understood forms. It 
is significant that the great majority of the characteristic, and virtually 
all the most famous, buildings of the period from 1790 to 1848 are 
neo-classical like the Madeleine, the British Museum, St Isaac’s 
cathedral in Leningrad, Nash’s London, Schinkel’s Berlin, or functional 
like the marvellous bridges, canals, railway constructions, factories and 
greenhouses of that age of technical beauty. 

However, quite apart from their styles, the architects and engineers 
of that age behaved as professionals and not as geniuses. Again, in 
genuinely popular forms of art such as the opera in Italy or (on a socially 
higher level) the novel in England, composers and writers continued 
to work as entertainers who regarded the supremacy of the box-office 
as a natural condition of their art, rather than as a conspiracy against 
their muse. Rossini would no more have expected to produce an un¬ 
commercial opera than the young Dickens an unserializable novel or 
today the librettist of a modern musical a text wl ’ch is performed as 
originally drafted. (This may also help to explain why Italian opera 
at this time was quite unromantic, in spite of its natural vulgarian 
fondness for blood, thunder and ‘strong’ situations.) 

The real problem was that of the artist cut off from a recognizable 
function, patron or public and left to cast his soul as a commodity upon 
a blind market, to be bought or not; or to work within a system of 
patronage which would generally have been economically untenable 
even if the French Revolution had not established its human indignity. 
The artist therefore stood alone, shouting into the night, uncertain 
even of an echo. It was only natural that he should turn himself into 
the genius, who created only what was within him, regardless of the 
world and in defiance of a public whose only right was to accept him 
on his own terms or not at all. At best he expected to be understood, 
like Stendhal, by the chosen few or some undefined posterity; at worst 
he would produce unplayable dramas, like Grabbe—or even Goethe’s 
Faust part II—or compositions for unrealistically gigantic orchestras 
like Berlioz; or else he would go mad like Holderlin, Grabbe, de Nerval 
and several others. In fact, the misunderstood genius was sometimes 
amply rewarded by princes accustomed to the vagaries of mistresses or 
to the value of prestige expenditure, or by an enriched bourgeoisie 
anxious to maintain a tenuous contact with the higher things of life. 
Franz Liszt (1811-86) never starved in the proverbial romantic garret. 
Few have ever succeeded in realizing their megalomaniac fantasies as 
Richard Wagner was to do. However, between the 1789 and the 1848 
Revolutions princes were only too often suspicious of the non-operatic 



arts* and the bourgeoisie engaged in accumulation rather than 
spending. Geniuses were therefore in general not only misunderstood 
but also poor. And most of them were revolutionary. 

Youth and ‘genius’ misunderstood would have produced the 
romantic’s revulsion against the philistine, the fashion of baiting and 
shocking the bourgeois, the liaison with demi-monde and bohime (both 
terms which acquired their present connotation in the romantic period), 
or the taste for madness or for things normally censored by respectable 
institutions and standard. But this was only a small part of roman¬ 
ticism. Mario Praz’s encyclopedia of erotic extremism is no more ‘The 
Romantic Agony’ 7 than a discussion of skulls and ghosts in Elizabethan 
symbolism is a critique of Hamlet. Behind the sectional dissatisfaction 
of the romantics as young men (even occasionally as young women— 
this was the first period in which continental women artists appear in 
their own right in any quantityf) and as artists, there lay a more 
general dissatisfaction with the kind of society emerging out of the 
double revolution. 

Precise social analysis was never the romantic forte, and indeed they 
distrusted the confident mechanical materialist reasoning of the 
eighteenth century (symbolized by Newton, the bugbear of both 
William Blake and Goethe) which they rightly saw as one of the chief 
tools with which bourgeois society had been built. Consequently we 
shall not expect them to provide a reasoned critique of bourgeois 
society, though something like such a critique wrapped in the mystical 
cloak of ‘nature philosophy 1 and walking amid the swirling clouds of 
metaphysics did develop within a broadly ‘romantic’ framework, and 
contributed, among other achievements, to the philosophy of Hegel. 
(See above pp. 250-2.) Something like it also developed, in visionary 
flashes constantly close to eccentricity, or even madness, among early 
utopian socialists in France. The early Saint-Simonians (though not 
their leader) and especially Fourier can hardly be described as other 
than romantics. The most lasting results of these romantic critiques were 
the concept of human ‘alienation’, which was to play a crucial part in 
Marx, and the intimation of the perfect society of the future. However, 
the most effective and powerful critique of bourgeois society was to come 
not from those who rejected it (and with it the traditions of classic seven- 

* The unspeakable Ferdinand of Spain, who maintained his patronage of the revolutionary 
Goya, in spite of both artistic and political provocation, was an exception. 

t Mme de Stafcl, George Sand, the painters Mme Vig£e Lebrun, Angelica Kauffman in 
France, Bcttina von Arnim, Annette von Droste-Huelshoff in Germany. Women novelists 
had of course long been common in middle-class England, where this art form was recognized 
as providing a ‘respectable’ form of earning money for well-brought up girls. Fanny Burney, 
Mrs Radcliffe, Jane Austen, Mrs Gaskell, the Bronte sisters all fall wholly or partly into Our 
period; as does the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning. 



teenth century science and rationalism) in toto and a priori, but from 
those who pushed the traditions of its classical thought to their anti¬ 
bourgeois conclusions. Robert Owen’s socialism had not the slightest 
element of romanticism in it; its components were entirely those of 
eighteenth century rationalism and that most bourgeois of sciences, poli¬ 
tical economy. Saint-Simon himself is best regarded as a prolongation of 
the ‘enlightenment’. It is significant that the young Marx, trained in the 
German (i.e. primarily romantic) tradition, became a Marxist only when 
combined with the French socialist critique and the wholly non-roman¬ 
tic theory of English political economy. And it was political economy 
which provided the core of his mature thought. 


It is never wise to neglect the heart’s reasons which reason knows 
nothing of. As thinkers within the terms of reference laid down by the 
economists and physicists, the poets were outclassed, but they saw not 
only more deeply but also sometimes more clearly. Few men saw the 
social earthquake caused by machine and factory earlier than William 
Blake in the 1790s, who had yet little except a few London steam-mills 
and brick-kilns to go by. With a few exceptions, our best treatments of 
the problem of urbanization come from the imaginative writers whose 
often apparently quite unrealistic observations have been shown to be 
a reliable indicator of the actual urban evolution of Paris. 8 Carlyle is 
a more confused but a more profound guide to England in 1840 than 
the diligent statistician and compiler J. R. McCulloch; and if J. S. Mill 
is a better one than other utilitarians, it is because a personal crisis made 
him alone among them aware of the value of the German and Romantic 
critiques of society: of Goethe and Coleridge. The romantic critique 
of the world, though ill-defined, was not therefore negligible. 

The longing that haunted it was for the lost unity of man and nature. 
The bourgeois world was a profoundly and deliberately asocial one. 
‘It has pitilessly torn asunder the motley feudal ties that bound man 
to his “natural superiors”, and has left no other nexus between man 
and man than naked self-interest, than callous “cash-payment”. It has 
drowned the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervour, of chivalrous 
enthusiasm, of philistine sentimentalism, in the icy water of egotistical 
calculation. It has resolved personal worth into exchange value, and 
in place of the numberless indefeasible freedoms, has set up that single, 
unconscionable freedom—Free Trade.’ The voice is that of the Com¬ 
munist Manifesto, but it speaks for all romanticism also. Such a world 
might make men wealthy and comfortable, though as a matter of fact 



it seemed evident that it also made others—a much greater number— 
hungry and miserable; but it left their souls naked and alone. It left 
them homeless and lost in the universe as ‘alienated’ beings. It left 
them cut off by a revolutionary chasm in world history from even the 
most obvious answer to alienation, the decision never to leave the old 
home. The poets of German romanticism thought they knew better 
than anyone that salvation lay only in the simple modest working life 
that went on in those idyllic pre-industrial little towns that dotted the 
dream-landscapes, which they described more irresistibly than they 
have ever been described by anyone. And yet their young men must 
leave to pursue the by definition endless quest for the ‘blue flower’ or 
merely to roam forever, homesick and singing Eichendorff lyrics or 
Schubert songs. The wanderer’s song is their signature tune, nostalgia 
their companion. Novalis even defined philosophy in terms of it. 9 

Three sources assuaged this thirst for the lost harmony of man in 
the world: the middle ages, primitive man (or, what could amount to 
the same thing, exoticism and the ‘folk’), and the French Revolution. 

The first attracted chiefly the romanticism of reaction. The stable 
ordered society of feudal age, the slow organic product of the ages, 
coloured with heraldry, surrounded by the shadowy mystery of fairy 
tale forests and canopied by the unquestioned Christian heavens, was 
the obvious lost paradise of the conservative opponents of bourgeois 
society, whose tastes for piety, loyalty and a minimum of literacy among 
the lower orders the French Revolution had only sharpened. With 
local modifications it was the ideal which Burke threw into the teeth 
of the rationalist Bastille-stormers in his Reflections on the French Revo- 
tion (1790). However, it found its classical expression in Germany, a 
country which in this period acquired something not far from a mono¬ 
poly of the medieval dream, perhaps because the tidy Gemuetlichkeit 
which appeared to reign beneath those Rhine-castles and Black Forest 
eaves lent itself more readily to idealization than the filth and cruelty 
of more genuinely medieval countries.* At all events medievalism was 
a far stronger component of German romanticism than of any other, 
and radiated outwards from Germany, whether in the form of romantic 
opera or ballet (Weber’s Freischuetz or Giselle ), of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, 
of historicist theories or of germanically inspired writers like Coleridge 
or Carlyle. However, in the more general form of a Gothic revival 
medievalism was the badge of the conservative and especially the 
religious anti-bourgeois everywhere. Chateaubriand exalted the Gothic 
in his Ginie du Christianisme (1802) against the Revolution, the upholders 

* ‘O Hermann, O Doroth^el Gemuethlichkeit!’ wrote Gautier, who adored Germany 
like all French romantics. ‘Nc semble*t-il pas que l*on entend du loin le cor du postilion?* 10 



of the Church of England favoured it against the rationalists and non¬ 
conformists whose buildings remained classical, the architect Pugin 
and the ultra-reactionary and catholicizing ‘Oxford Movement’ of the 
1830s were gothicists to the core. Meanwhile from the misty remoteness 
of Scotland—long a country in which to set archaic dreams like the 
invented poems of Ossian—the conservative Walter Scott supplied 
Europe with yet another set of medieval images in his historical novels. 
The fact that the best of his novels dealt with fairly recent periods of 
history was widely overlooked. 

Beside this preponderance of conservative medievalism, which the 
reactionary governments after 1815 sought to translate into ramshackle 
justifications of absolutism (cf. above p. 230), leftwing medievalism is 
unimportant. In England it existed mainly as a current in the popular 
radical movement which tended to see the period before the Refor¬ 
mation as a golden age of the labourer and the Reformation as the 
first great step towards capitalism. In France it was very much more 
important, for there its emphasis was not on feudal hierarchy and 
catholic order, but on the eternal, suffering, turbulent, creative people'. 
the French nation always reasserting its identity and mission. Jules 
Michelet, the poet as historian, was the greatest of such revolutionary- 
democratic medievalists; Victor Hugo’s Hunchback of Notre Dame, the 
best-known product of the preoccupation. 

Closely allied with medievalism, especially through its preoccupation 
with traditions of mystical religiosity, was the pursuit of even more 
ancient and profound mysteries and sources of irrational wisdom in 
the orient: the romantic, but also the conservative, realms of Kublai 
Khan or the Brahmins. Admittedly the discoverer of Sanskrit, Sir 
William Jones, was a straightforward Whiggish radical who hailed the 
American and French Revolutions as an enlightened gentleman should; 
but the bulk of the amateurs of the East and writers of pseudo-Persian 
poems, out of whose enthusiasm much of modern orientalism emerged, 
belonged to the anti-Jacobin tendency. Characteristically Brahmin 
India was their spiritual goal, rather than the irreligious and rational 
Chinese empire, which had preoccupied the exotic imaginations of the 
eighteenth century enlightenment. 


The dream of the lost harmony of primitive man has a much longer 
and more complex history. It has been overwhelmingly a revolutionary 
dream, whether in the form of the golden age of communism, of the 
equality ‘when Adam delved and Eve span’, the free Anglo-Saxon not 



yet enslaved by the Norman Conquest, or the noble savage showing 
up the deficiencies of a corrupt society. Consequently romantic primi¬ 
tivism lent itself more readily to leftwing rebellion, except where it 
served merely as an escape from bourgeois society (as in the exoticism 
of a Gautier or Merimee who discovered the noble savage as a tourist 
sight in Spain in the 1830s) or where historic continuity made the 
primitive someone exemplifying conservatism. This was notably the 
case of ‘the folk’. It was accepted among romantics of all shades that 
‘the folk’, i.e. normally the pre-industrial peasant or craftsman, exemp¬ 
lified the uncorrupted virtues and that its language, song, story and 
custom was the true repository of the soul of the people. To return to 
that simplicity and virtue was the aim of the Wordsworth of Lyrical 
Ballads ; to be accepted into the corpus of folksong and fairy-tale the 
ambition—achieved by several artists—of many a teutonic poet and 
composer. The vast movement for the collection of folksong, the 
publication of ancient epic, the lexicography of living language, was 
closely connected with romanticism; the very word folklore (1846) an 
invention of the period. Scott’s Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border (1803), 
Amim and Brentano’s Des Knaben Wunderhorn (1806), Grimm’s Fairy- 
Tales (1812), Moore’s Irish Melodies (1807-34), Dobrovsky’s History 
of the Bohemian Language (1818), Vuk Karajic’s Serb Dictionary (1818) 
and Serbian Folksong (1823-33), Tegn^r’s Frithjofssaga in Sweden 
(1825), Lonnrot’s Kalevala edition in Finland (1835), Grimm’s German 
Mythology (1835), Asbjornson and Moe’s Norwegian Folk Tales (1842-71), 
are so many monuments to it. 

‘The folk’ could be revolutionary concept, especially among op¬ 
pressed peoples about to discover or reassert their national identity, 
particularly those which lacked a native middle class or aristocracy. 
There the first dictionary, grammar or collection of folksong was an 
event of major political importance, a first declaration of independence, 
On the other hand for those who were struck more by the folk’s simple 
virtues of contentment, ignorance and piety, the deep wisdom of its 
trust in pope, king or tsar, the cult of the primitive at home lent itself 
to a conservative interpretation. It exemplified the unity of innocence, 
myth and age-old tradition, which the bourgeois society was every day 
destroying.* The capitalist and the rationalist were the enemies against 
whom king, squire and peasant must maintain their hallowed union. 

The Primitive existed in every village; but he existed as an even 
more revolutionary concept in the assumed golden communistic age 

* How wc arc to interpret the new popularity of folk-based ballroom dances in this 
period, such as the waltz, mazurka and schottische, is a matter of taste. It was certainly a 
romantic fashion. 



of the past, and as the free noble savage abroad; especially as the Red 
Indian. From Rousseau, who held it up as the ideal of free social man, 
to the socialists primitive society was a sort of model for utopia. 
Marx’s triple divisions of history—primitive communism, class 
society, communism, on a higher level—echoes, though it also 
transforms, this tradition. The ideal of primitivism was not specially 
romantic. Indeed some of its most ardent champions were in the 
eighteenth century illuminist tradition. The romantic quest took its 
explorers into the great deserts of Arabia and North Africa, among 
Delacroix’s and Fromentin’s warriors and odalisques, with Byron 
through the Mediterranean world, or with Lermontov to the Caucasus, 
where natural man in the shape of the Cossack fought natural man in 
the shape of the tribesman amid chasms and cataracts, rather than to 
the innocent social and erotic utopia of Tahiti. But it also took them to 
America, where primitive man was fighting and doomed, a situation 
which brought him closer to the mood of the romantics. The Indian 
poems of the Austro-Hungarian Lenau cry out against the red man’s 
expulsion; if the Mohican had not been the last of his tribe, would he 
have become quite so powerful a symbol in European culture? Naturally 
the noble savage played an immeasurably more important part in 
American romanticism than in European—Melville’s Moby Dick 
(1851) is his greatest monument—but in the Leatherstocking novels 
of Fenimore Cooper he captured the old world, as the conservative 
Chateaubriand’s Natchez had never been able to do. 

Middle ages, folk and noble savage were ideals anchored firmly to 
the past. Only revolution, the ‘springtime of peoples’, pointed exclu¬ 
sively to the future, and yet even the most utopian found it comforting 
to appeal to a precedent for the unprecedented. This was not easily 
possible until a second generation of romanticism had produced a crop 
of young men for whom the French Revolution and Napoleon were 
facts of history and not a painful chapter of autobiography. 1789 had 
been hailed by virtually every artist and intellectual of Europe, but 
though some were able to maintain their enthusiasm through war, 
terror, bourgeois corruption and empire, theirs was not an easy or 
communicable dream. Even in Britain, where the first generation of 
romanticism, that of Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Southey, Campbell 
and Hazlitt, had been wholly Jacobin, the disillusioned and the neo¬ 
conservative prevailed by 1805. In France and Germany, indeed, the 
word ‘romantic’ had been virtually invented as an anti-revolutionary 
slogan by the conservative anti-bourgeois of the later 1790s (very often 
disillusioned former leftists), which accounts for the fact that a number 
of thinkers and artists in these countries who would by modern 



standards be reckoned fairly obvious romantics are traditionally ex¬ 
cluded from this classification. However, by the later years of the 
Napoleonic wars new generations of young men began to grow up for 
whom only the great liberating flame of the Revolution was visible 
across the years, the ashes of its excesses and corruptions having dropped 
out of sight; and after Napoleon’s exile even that unsympathetic 
character could become a semi-mythical phoenix and liberator. And 
as Europe advanced year by year more deeply into the low featureless 
plains of reaction, censorship and mediocrity and the pestilential 
swamps of poverty, unhappiness and oppression, the image of the 
liberating revolution became ever more luminous. 

The second generation of British romantics—that of Byron (x 788- 
1824), the unpolitical but fellow-travelling Keats (1795-1821) and 
above all Shelley (1792-1822)—was the first thus to combine roman¬ 
ticism and active revolutionism: the disappointments of the French 
Revolution, unforgotten by most of their elders, paled beside the visible 
horrors of the capitalist transformation in their own country. On the 
continent the junction between romantic art and revolution was antici¬ 
pated in the 1820s, but only made fully in and after the French Revo¬ 
lution of 1830. This is also true of what may perhaps be called the 
romantic vision of revolution and the romantic style of being a revolu¬ 
tionary, whose most familiar expression is Delacroix’s painting of 
Liberty on the Barricades (1831). Here saturnine young men in beards 
and top hats, shirtsleeved workers, tribunes of the people in flowing 
locks under sombrero-like hats, surrounded by tricolours and phrygian 
bonnets, recreate the Revolution of 1793—not the moderate one of 
1789, but the glory of the year II—raising its barricades in every city 
of the continent. 

Admittedly the romantic revolutionary was' not entirely new. His 
immediate ancestor and predecessor was the member of the italianate 
and masonic revolutionary secret society—the Carbonaro or Phil- 
hellene, whose inspiration came directly from surviving old Jacobins 
or Babouvists like Buonarroti. This is the typical revolutionary struggle 
of the Restoration period, all dashing young men in guards or hussar 
uniforms leaving operas, soirees, assignments with duchesses or highly 
ritualized lodge-meetings to make a military coup or place themselves 
at the head of a struggling nation; in fact, the Byronic pattern. How¬ 
ever, not only was this revolutionary fashion much more directly 
inspired by eighteenth-century modes of thought, and perhaps socially 
more exclusive than the later one. It still lacked a crucial element of 
the romantic revolutionary vision of 1830-48; the barricades, the 
masses, the new and desperate proletariat; that element which 



Daumier’s lithograph of the Massacre in the Rue Transnonain (1834), 
with its murdered nondescript worker, added to the romantic imagery. 

The most striking consequence of this junction of romanticism with 
vision of a new and higher French Revolution was the overwhelming 
victory of political art between 1830 and 1848. There has rarely been 
a period when even the least ‘ideological’ artists were more universally 
partisan, often regarding service to politics as their primary duty. 
‘Romanticism,’ cried Victor Hugo in the preface to Hernani, that 
manifesto of rebellion (1830), ‘is liberalism in literature.’ 11 ‘Writers,’ 
wrote the poet Alfred de Musset (1810-57), whose natural talent—like 
that of the composer Chopin (1810-49) or the introspective Austro- 
Hungarian poet Lenau (1802-50)—was for the private rather than the 
public voice, ‘had a predilection to speak in their prefaces about the 
future, about social progress, humanity and civilization.’ 12 Several 
artists became political figures and that not only in countries in the 
throes of national liberation, where all artists tended to be prophets or 
national symbols: Chopin, Liszt and even the young Verdi among the 
musicians; Mickiewicz (who saw himselfin a messianic role), Petofi and 
Manzoni among the poets of Poland, Hungary and Italy respectively. 
The painter Daumier worked chiefly as a political cartoonist. The poet 
Uhland, the brothers Grimm, were liberal politicians, the volcanic 
boy-genius Georg Buchner (1810-37) an active revolutionary, Hein¬ 
rich Heine (1797-1856), a close personal friend of Karl Marx, an 
ambiguous but powerful voice of the extreme left.* Literature and 
journalism fused, most notably in France and Germany and Italy. In 
another age a Lamennais or a Jules Michelet in France, a Carlyle or 
Ruskin in Britain, might have been poets or novelists with some views 
on public affairs; in this one they were publicists, prophets, philosophers 
or historians carried by a poetic afflatus. For that matter, the lava of 
poetic imagery accompanies the eruption of Marx’s youthful intellect 
to an extent unusual among either philosophers or economists. Even 
the gentle Tennyson and his Cambridge friends threw their hearts 
behind the international brigade which went to support Liberals 
against Clericals in Spain. 

The characteristic aesthetic theories developed and dominant during 
this period ratified this unity of art and social committment. The Saint- 
Simonians of France on one hand, the brilliant revolutionary Russian 
intellectuals of the ’forties on the other, even evolved the views which 

* It should be noted that this is one of the rare periods when poets not merely sympathized 
with the extreme left, but wrote poems which were both good and agitationally usable. The 
distinguished group of German socialist poets of the 1840s—Herwegh, Weerth, Freiligrath, 
and of course Heine—deserves mention, though Shelley’s Masque of Anarchy (*820), a riposte 
to Peterloo, is perhaps the most powerful such poem. 


the age of revolution 

later became standard in Marxist movements under such names as 
‘socialist realism’; 18 a noble but not overpoweringly successful ideal 
deriving both from the austere virtue of Jacobinism, and that romantic 
faith in the power of the spirit which made Shelley call the poets 
‘the unacknowledged legislators of the world’. ‘Art for art’s sake’, 
though already formulated, mostly by conservatives or dilettantes, 
could not as yet compete with art for humanity’s sake, or for the nations’ 
or the proletariat’s sake. Not until the 1848 revolutions destroyed the 
romantic hopes of the great rebirth of man, did self-contained aesthe¬ 
ticism come into its own. The evolution of such ’forty-eighters as Baude¬ 
laire and Flaubert illustrates this political as well as aesthetic change, 
and Flaubert’s Sentimental Education remains its best literary record. Only 
in countries like Russia, in which the disillusion of 1848 had not 
occurred (if only because 1848 had not occurred), did the arts continue 
to remain socially committed or preoccupied as before. 


Romanticism is the fashion in art as in life most characteristic of the 
period of dual revolution, but by no means the only one. Indeed, since 
it dominated neither the cultures of the aristocracy, nor those of the 
middle classes and even less of the labouring poor, its actual quanti¬ 
tative importance at the time was small. The arts which depended 
on the patronage or the mass support of the moneyed classes tolerated 
romanticism best where its ideological characteristics were least 
obvious, as in music. The arts which depended on the support of the 
poor were hardly of great interest to the romantic artist, though in 
fact the entertainment of the poor—penny dreadfuls and broadsheets, 
circuses, sideshows, travelling theatres and the like—were a source of 
much inspiration to the romantics, and in turn popular showmen rein¬ 
forced their own stock of emotion-stirring properties—transformation 
scenes, fairies, last words of murderers, brigands, etc.—with suitable 
goods from the romantic warehouses. 

The fundamental style of aristocratic life and art remained rooted 
in the eighteenth century, though considerably vulgarized by an in¬ 
fusion of sometimes ennobled nouveaux-riches; as notably in the 
Napoleonic Empire style, which was of quite remarkable ugliness and 
pretentiousness, and the British Regency style. A comparison of eigh¬ 
teenth century and post-Napoleonic uniforms—the form of art which 
most directly expressed the instincts of the officers and gentlemen 
responsible for their design—will make this clear. The triumphant 
supremacy of Britain made the English nobleman the pattern of inter- 



national aristocratic culture, or rather unculture; for the interests of 
‘the dandy’—clean-shaven, impassive and refulgent—were supposed 
to be confined to horses, dogs, carriages, prize-fighters, gaming, 
gentlemanly dissipation and his own person. Such heroic extremism 
fired even the romantics, who fancied dandyism themselves; but 
probably it fired young ladies of lesser ranks even more, and set them 
dreaming (in Gautier’s words): 

‘Sir Edward was so splendidly the Englishman of her dreams. The English¬ 
man freshly shaved, pink, shining, groomed and polished, facing the first rays 
of the morning sun in an already perfect white cravat, the Englishman of 
waterproof and mackintosh. Was he not the very crown of civilization? . . . 

I shall have English silverware, she thought, and Wedgwood china. There 
will be carpets all over the house and powdered footmen and I shall take the 
air by the side of my husband driving our four-in-hand through Hyde Park. 

. .. Tame spotted deer will play on the green lawn of my country house, and 
perhaps also a few blond and rosy children. Children look so well on the front 
seat of a Barouche, beside a pedigree King Charles spaniel . . . ,’ 14 

It was perhaps an inspiring vision, but not a romantic one, any more 
than the picture of Royal or Imperial Majesties graciously attending 
opera or ball, surmounting expanses of jewelled, but strictly well-born, 
gallantry and beauty. 

Middle and lower middle class culture was no more romantic. Its 
keynote was soberness and modesty. Only among the great bankers 
and speculators, or the very first generation of industrial millionaires, 
who never or no longer needed to plough much of their profits back into 
the business, did the opulent pseudo-baroque of the latter nineteenth 
century begin to show itself; and then only in the few countries in 
which the old monarchies or aristocrats no longer dominated ‘society’ 
entirely. The Rothschilds, monarchs in their own right, already showed 
off like princes. 15 The ordinary bourgeois did not. Puritanism, evan¬ 
gelical or Catholic pietism encouraged moderation, thrift, a comfortable 
spartanism and an unparalleled moral self-satisfaction in Britain, the 
USA, Germany and Huguenot France; the moral tradition of eigh¬ 
teenth century illuminism and freemasonry did the same for the more 
emancipated or anti-religious. Except in the pursuit of profit and logic, 
middle class life was a life of controlled emotion and deliberate re¬ 
striction of scope. The very large section of the middle classes who, on 
the continent, were not in business at all but in government service, 
whether as officials, teachers, professors or in some cases pastors, lacked 
even the expanding frontier of capital accumulation; and so did the 



modest provincial bourgeois who knew that the small-town wealth, 
which was the limit of his achievement, was not very impressive by the 
standards of the real wealth and power of his age. In fact, middle class 
life was ‘un-romantic’, and its pattern still largely governed by 
eighteenth century fashion. 

This is perfectly evident in the middle class home, which was after 
all the centre of middle class culture. The style of the post-Napoleonic 
bourgeois house or street derives straight from, and often direcdy 
continues, eighteenth century classicism or rococo. Late-Georgian build¬ 
ing continued in Britain until the 1840s, and elsewhere the architectural 
break (introduced mosdy by an artistically disastrous rediscovery of 
the ‘renaissance’) came even later. The prevailing style of interior 
decoration and domestic life, best called Biedermayer after its most perfect 
expression, the German one, was a sort of domestic classicism warmed 
by intimacy of emotion and virginal dreaming ( Innerlichkeit, Gemueth- 
lichkeit), which owed something to romanticism—or rather to the pre¬ 
romanticism of the late eighteenth century—but reduced even this 
debt to the dimensions of the modest bourgeois playing quartets on a 
Sunday afternoon in his living room. Biedermayer produced one of the 
most beautifully habitable styles of furnishing ever devised, all plain 
white curtains against matt walls, bare floors, solid but mostly elegant 
chairs and bureaus, pianos, mineral cabinets and vases full of flowers, 
but it was essentially a late classical style. It is perhaps most nobly 
exemplified in Goethe’s house in Weimar. It, or something like it, was 
the setting of life for the heroines of Jane Austen’s (1775-1817) novels, 
for the evangelical rigours and enjoyments of the Clapham sect, for 
the high-minded Bostonian bourgeoisie or provincial French readers 
of the Journal des Dibats. 

Romanticism entered middle class culture, perhaps mostly through 
the rise in day-dreaming among the female members of the bourgeois 
family. To show off the breadwinner’s capacity to keep them in bored 
leisure was one of their main social functions; a cherished slavery their 
ideal fate. At all events bourgeois girls, like non-bourgeois ones, such 
as the odalisques and nymphs which anti-romantic painters like Ingres 
(1780-1867) brought out of the romantic into the bourgeois context, 
increasingly conformed to the same fragile, egg-faced, smooth-hair- 
and-ringlet type, the tender flower in shawl and bonnet so characteristic 
of the 1840s’ fashion. It was a long way from that crouching lioness, 
Goya’s Duchess of Alba, or the emancipated neo-Grecian girls in white 
muslin whom the French Revolution had scattered across the salons, 
or the self-possessed Regency ladies and courtesans like Lady Lieven or 
Harriete Wilson, as unromantic as they were unbourgeois. 



Bourgeois girls might play domesticated romantic music like Chopin’s 
or Schumann’s (1810-56). Biedermayer might encourage a kind of 
romantic lyricism, like that of Eichendorff (1788-1857) or Eduard 
Morike (1804-75), in which cosmic passion was transmuted into nos¬ 
talgia, or passive longing. The active entrepreneur might even, while 
on a business trip, enjoy a mountain pass as ‘the most romantic sight 
I had ever beheld’, relax at home by sketching ‘The Castle of Udolpho’ 
or even, like John Cragg of Liverpool, ‘being a man of artistic taste’ as 
well as an ironfounder, ‘introduce cast-iron into Gothic architecture’. 16 
But on the whole bourgeois culture was not romantic. The very 
exhilaration of technical progress precluded orthodox romanticism, 
at any rate in the centres of industrial advance. A man like James 
Nasmyth, the inventor of the steam-hammer (1808-90), was anything 
but a barbarian if only because he was the son of a Jacobin painter 
(‘the father of landscape painting in Scotland’), brought up among 
artists and intellectuals, a lover of the picturesque and the ancient and 
with all the good Scotsman’s thorough and wide education. Yet what 
more natural than that the painter’s son should become a mechanic, 
or that on a youthful walking tour with his father the Devon Ironworks 
should interest him more than any other sight? For him, as for the polite 
eighteenth century Edinburgh citizens among whom he grew up, things 
were sublime but not irrational. Rouen contained simply a ‘magnificent 
cathedral and the church of St Ouen, so exquisite in its beauty, together 
with the refined Gothic architectural remains scattered about that 
interesting and picturesque city’. The picturesque was splendid; yet 
he could not but note, on his enthusiastic holidays, that it was a product 
of neglect. Beauty was splendid; but surely, what was wrong with 
modern architecture was that ‘the purpose of the building is.. . regarded 
as a secondary consideration’. ‘I was reluctant to tear myself away 
from Pisa’ he wrote; but ‘what interested me most in the Cathedral 
was the two bronze lamps suspended at the end of the nave, which 
suggested to the mind of Galileo the invention of the pendulum.’ 17 Such 
men were neither barbarians nor philistines; but their world was a 
great deal closer to Voltaire’s or Josiah Wedgwood’s than to John 
Ruskin’s. The great toolmaker Henry Maudslay no doubt felt much 
more at home, when in Berlin, with his friends Humboldt, the king of 
liberal scientists, and the neo-classic architect Schinkel, than he would 
have done with the great but cloudy Hegel. 

In any case, in the centres of advancing bourgeois society, the arts 
as a whole took second place to science. The educated British or Ameri¬ 
can manufacturer or engineer might appreciate them, especially in 
moments of family relaxation and holiday, but his real cultural efforts 



would be directed towards the diffusion and advancement of know¬ 
ledge—his own, in such bodies as the British Association for tht 
Advancement of Science, or the people’s, through the Society for the 
Diffusion of Useful Knowledge and similar organizations. It is charac¬ 
teristic that the typical product of the eighteenth century enlightenment, 
the encyclopaedia, flourished as never before; still retaining (as in the 
famous Meyer’s Conversationslexicon of the Germans, a product of 
the 1830s) much of its militant political liberalism. Byron made a great 
deal pf money out of his poems, but the publisher Constable in 1812 
paid Dugald Stewart a thousand pounds for a preface on The Progress 
of Philosophy to introduce the supplement to the Encyclopaedia Britan- 
nica. lB And even when the bourgeoisie was romantic its dreams were 
those of technology: the young men fired by Saint-Simon became the 
planners of Suez canals, of titanic railway networks linking all parts of 
the globe, of Faustian finance, beyond the natural range of interest of 
the calm, and rationalist Rothschilds, who knew that plenty of money 
was to be made with a minimum of speculative soaring by conservative 
means. 1 ® Science and technology were the muses of the bourgeoisie, 
and they celebrated its triumph, the railway, in the great (and alas 
now destroyed) neo-classical portico of Euston station. 


Meanwhile, outside the radius of literacy, the culture of the common 
people continued. In the non-urban and non-industrial parts of the 
world it changed little. The songs and feasts of the 1840s, the costumes, 
designs and colours of people’s decorative arts, the pattern of their 
customs, remained very much what they had been in 1789. Industry 
and the growing city began to destroy it. No man could live in a factory 
town as he had in the village, and the entire complex of culture neces¬ 
sarily fell to pieces with the collapse of the social framework which held 
it together and gave it shape. Where a song belongs to ploughing, it 
cannot be sung when men do not plough; if it is sung, it ceases to be a 
folksong and becomes something else. The nostalgia of the emigrant 
maintained the old customs and songs in the exile of the city, and 
perhaps even intensified their attraction, for they palliated the pain of 
uprooting. But outside cities and mills the dual revolution had trans¬ 
formed—or more accurately devastated—only patches of the old rural 
life, notably in parts of Ireland and Britain, to the point where the old 
ways of living became impossible. 

Indeed even in industry social transformation had not gone far 
enough before the 1840s to destroy the older culture completely; all 



the more so as in Western Europe crafts and manufactures had had 
several centuries in which to develop a, as it were, semi-industrial 
pattern of culture. In the countryside miners and weavers expressed 
their hope and protest in traditional folksong, and the industrial revo¬ 
lution merely added to their number and sharpened their experience. 
The factory needed no worksongs, but various activities incidental to 
economic development did, and developed them in the old way: the 
capstan-chanty of the seamen on the great sailing ships belongs to this 
golden age of‘industrial’ folksong in the first half of the nineteenth cen¬ 
tury, like the ballads of the Greenland whalers, the Ballad of the Coal- 
owner and the Pitman’s Wife and the lament of the weaver. 20 In the 
pre-industrial towns, communities of craftsmen and domestic workers 
evolved a literate, intense culture in which Protestant sectarianism com¬ 
bined or competed with Jacobin radicalism as a stimulus to self-educa¬ 
tion, Bunyan and John Calvin with Tom Paine and Robert Owen. 
Libraries, chapels and institutes, gardens and cages in which the artisan 
‘fancier’ bred his artificially exaggerated flowers, pigeons and dogs, filled 
these self-reliant and militant communities of skilled men; Norwich in 
England was famous not merely for its atheistical and republican spirit 
but is still famous for its canaries.* But the adaptation of older folksong 
to industrial life did not (except in the United States of America) 
survive the impact of the age of railways and iron, and the communities 
of the old skilled men, like the Dunfermline of the old linen-weavers, 
did not survive the advance of the factory and the machine. After 1840 
they fell into ruin. 

As yet nothing much replaced the older culture. In Britain, for 
instance, the new pattern of a wholly industrial life did not fully emerge 
until the 1870s and 1880s. The period from the crisis of the old tradi¬ 
tional ways of life until then was therefore in many ways the bleakest part 
ofwhatwasfor the labouring poor an exceedingly bleak age. Nor did the 
great cities develop a pattern of popular culture—necessarily commercial 
rather than, as in the smaller communities, self-made—in our period. 

It is true that the great city, especially the great capital city, already 
contained important institutions which supplied the cultural needs of 
the poor, or the ‘little people’, though often—characteristically enough 
—also of the aristocracy. These, however, were in the main develop¬ 
ments of the eighteenth century, whose contribution to the evolution 

* 'There yet stands many an old house’ wrote Francis Horner in 187^ ‘deeply bedded in 
a town, that used to have its garden—oftentimes a florist’s. Here for instance is the very 
window—curiously long and lightsome—at which a handloom weaver worked behind his 
loom, able to watch his flowers as closely as his work—his labour and his pleasure inter¬ 
mingled. ... But the mill has supplanted his patient hand-machine, and brickwork swallowed 
up his garden.’* 1 



of the popular arts has been often overlooked. The popular suburban 
theatre in Vienna, the dialect theatre in the Italian cities, the popular 
(as distinct from court) opera, the commedia dell’arte and travelling 
mime-show, the boxing or race-meeting, or the democratized version 
of the Spanish bullfight* were products of the eighteenth century; the 
illustrated broadsheet and chapbook of an even earlier period. The 
genuinely new forms of urban entertainment in the big city were by¬ 
products of the tavern or drink-shop, which became an increasing 
source of secular comfort for the labouring poor in their social dis¬ 
organization, and the last urban rampart of custom and traditional 
ceremonial, preserved and intensified by journeyman guilds, trade 
unions and ritualized ‘friendly societies’. The ‘music-hall’ and dance- 
hall were to emerge from the tavern; but by 1848 it had not yet 
emerged far, even in Britain, though its emergence was already noted 
in the 1830s. 22 The other new forms of big-city urban entertainment 
grew out of the fair, always accompanied by its quota of itinerant 
entertainers, In the big city it became permanently fixed; and even in 
the 1840s the mixture of sideshows, theatres, hawkers, pickpockets and 
barrow-boys on certain boulevards provided the romantic intellectuals 
of Paris with inspiration and the populace with pleasure. 

Popular taste also determined the shape and decoration of those 
relatively few individualized commodities which industry produced 
primarily for the market of the poor: the jugs which commemorate 
the triumph of the Reform Bill, the great iron bridge over the river 
Wear or those magnificent three-masters which sailed the Atlantic; 
the popular prints in which revolutionary sentiment, patriotism or 
famous crimes were immortalized, and such few articles of furnishing 
and clothing as the urban poor could afford. But on the whole the city, 
and especially the new industrial city, remained a gaunt place, whose 
few amenities—open spaces, holidays—were gradually diminished by 
the creeping blight of building, the fumes which poisoned all natural 
life, and the compulsion of unceasing labour, reinforced in suitable 
cases by the austere Sabbatarian discipline imposed by the middle 
classes. Only-the new gaslight and the displays of commerce in the 
main streets here and there anticipated the vivid colours of night in 
the modern town. But the creation of the modern big city and the 
modern urban ways of popular life had to await the second half of 
the nineteenth century. In the first destruction prevailed, or was at 
best held at bay. 

* Its original version was knightly, the chief combatant being on horseback; the innovation 
of killing the bull on foot is traditionally ascribed to an eighteenth century carpenter from 



Let us never forget that long before we did, the sciences and philosophyfought against 
the tyrants. Their constant efforts have made the revolution. As free and grateful men, 
we ought to establish them among us and cherish them for ever. For the sciences and 
philosophy will maintain the liberty which we have conquered. 

A member of the Convention 1 

* Questions of science,’ remarked Goethe, ’are very frequently career questions. 
A single discovery may make a man famous and lay the foundation of his fortunes as a 
citizen. ... Every newly observed phenomenon is a discovery, every discovery is property. 
Touch a man’s property and his passions are immediately aroused.’ 

Conversations with Eckermann, December 21, 1823 


To draw a parallelism between the arts and the sciences is 
always dangerous, for the relationships between either and the society 
in which they flourish is quite different. Yet the sciences too in their 
way reflected the dual revolution, partly because it made specific new 
demands on them, partly because it opened new possibilities for 
them and faced them with new problems, partly because its very 
existence suggested new patterns of thought. I do not wish to imply 
that the evolution of the sciences between 1789 and 1848 can be ana¬ 
lysed exclusively in terms of the movements in the society round them. 
Most human activities have their internal logic, which determines at 
least part of their movement. The planet Neptune was discovered in 
1846, not because anything outside astronomy encouraged its discovery, 
but because Bouvard’s tables in 1821 demonstrated that the orbit of 
the planet Uranus, discovered in 1781, showed unexpected deviations 
from the calculations; because by the later 1830s these deviations had 
become larger and were tentatively ascribed to disturbances by some 
unknown celestial body, and because various astronomers set about to 
calculate the position of that body. Nevertheless even the most passion¬ 
ate believer in the unsullied purity of pure science is aware that 
scientific thought may at least be influenced by matters outside the 
specific field of a discipline, if only because scientists, even the most 
unworldly of mathematicians, live in a wider world. The progress of 



science is not a simple linear advance, each stage marking the solution 
of problems previously implicit or explicit in it, and in turn posing 
new problems. It also proceeds by the discovery of new problems, of 
new ways of looking at old ones, of new ways of tackling or solving old 
ones, of entirely new fields of enquiry, or new theoretical and practical 
tools of enquiry. And here there is ample scope for stimulation or the 
shaping of thought by outside factors. If in fact most sciences in our 
period had advanced in a simple linear way, as was the case with 
astronomy, which remained substantially within its Newtonian frame¬ 
work, this might not be very important. But, as we shall see, our period 
was one of radically new departures in some fields of thought (as in 
mathematics), of the awakening of hitherto dormant sciences (as in 
chemistry), of the virtual creation of new sciences (as in geology), and 
of the injection of revolutionary new ideas into others (as in the social 
and biological sciences). 

As it happened of all the outside forces shaping scientific develop¬ 
ment the direct demands made on scientists by government or industry 
were among the least important. The French Revolution mobilized 
them, placing the geometer and engineer Lazare Carnot in charge of 
the Jacobin war-effort, the mathematician and physicist Monge 
(Minister of the Navy in 1792-3) and a team of mathematicians and 
chemists in charge of war production, as it had earlier charged the 
chemist and economist Lavoisier with the preparation of an estimate of 
the national income. It was perhaps the first occasion in modern or any 
other history when the trained scientist as such entered government, 
but this was of greater importance to government than to science. In 
Britain, major industries of our period were cotton textiles, coal, iron, 
railways and shipping. The skills which revolutionized these were those 
of empirical—too empirical—men. The hero of the British railway 
revolution was George Stephenson, a scientific illiterate, but a man 
who could smell what would make a machine go: a super-craftsman 
rather than a technologist. The attempts of scientists like Babbage to 
make themselves useful to the railways, or of scientific engineers like 
Brunei to establish them on rational rather than merely empirical 
foundations, came to nothing. 

On the other hand science benefited tremendously from the striking 
encouragement of scientific and technical education and the somewhat 
less striking support for research, which arose during our period. Here 
the influence of the dual revolution is quite clear. The French Revolu¬ 
tion transformed the scientific and technical education of its country, 
chiefly by setting up the Ecole Polytechnique (1795)—intended as a 
school for technicians of all sorts—and the first sketch of the Ecole 



Normale Superieure (1794) which was firmly established as part of a 
general reform of secondary and higher education by Napoleon. It 
also revived the drooping royal academy (1795) and created, in the 
National Museum of Natural History (1794), the first genuine centre 
for research outside the physical sciences. The world supremacy of 
French science during most of our period was almost certainly due to 
these major foundations, notably to the Poly technique, a turbulent centre 
of Jacobinism and Liberalism throughout the post-Napoleonic period, 
and an incomparable breeder of great mathematicians and theoretical 
physicists. The Polytechnique found imitators in Prague, Vienna and 
Stockholm, in St Petersburg and Copenhagen, all over Germany and 
Belgium, in Zurich and Massachusetts, but not in England. The shock 
of the French Revolution also jolted Prussia out of its educational 
lethargy, and the new University of Berlin (1806-10), founded as part 
of the Prussian revival, became the model for most German universities, 
which in turn were to create the pattern of academic institutions all 
over the world. Once again, no such reforms took place in Britain, 
where the political revolution neither won nor conquered. But the 
immense wealth of the country, which made private laboratories such 
as those of Henry Cavendish and James Joule possible, and the general 
pressure of intelligent middle-class persons for scientific and technical 
education, achieved comparable results. Count Rumford, a peripatetic 
illuminist adventurer, founded the Royal Institution in 1799. Its fame 
among laymen was chiefly based on its famous public lectures, but its 
real importance lay in the unique scope for experimental science it 
provided for Humphry Davy and Michael Faraday. It was in fact an 
early example of the research laboratory. Bodies for the encouragement 
of science, like the Birmingham Lunar Society and the Manchester 
Literary and Philosophical Society, mobilized the support of indus¬ 
trialists in the provinces: John Dalton-, the founder of the atomic 
theory, came out of the latter. The Benthamite Radicals in London 
founded (or rather took over and diverted) the London Mechanics 
Institution—the present Birkbeck College—as a school for technicians, 
London University as an alternative to the somnolence of Oxford 
and Cambridge, and the British Association for the Advancement of 
Science (1831) as an alternative to the aristocratic torpor of the degen¬ 
erate Royal Society. These were not foundations intended to foster the 
pure pursuit of knowledge for its own sake, which is perhaps why 
specific research establishments were slow to make their appearance. 
Even in Germany the first university research laboratory for chemistry 
(Liebig’s in Giessen) was not set up until 1825. (Its inspiration was 
French, needless to say.) There were institutions to provide technicians 



as in France and Britain, teachers, as in France and Germany, or to 
inculcate youth with a spirit of service to their country. 

The revolutionary age therefore swelled the number of scientists and 
scholars and the output of science. What is more, it saw the geographical 
universe of science widen in two ways. In the first place the very process 
of trade and exploration opened new ranges of the world to scientific 
study, and stimulated thought about them. One of the greatest of the 
scientific minds of our period, Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859), 
made his contributions primarily thus: as an indefatigable traveller, 
observer, and theorist in the fields of geography, ethnography and 
natural history, though his noble synthesis of all knowledge, the 
Kosmos (1845-59), cannot be confined within the limits of particular 

In the second place the universe of science widened to embrace 
countries and peoples which had hitherto made only the smallest 
contributions The list of the great scientists of, say, 1750 contains 
few except Frenchmen, Britons, Germans, Italians and Swiss. But the 
shortest list of the major mathematicians of the first half of the nine¬ 
teenth century contains Henrik Abel from Norway, Janos Bolyai from 
Hungary and Nikolai Lobachevsky from the even more remote city of 
Kazan. Here again science appears to reflect the rise of national cultures 
outside Western Europe, which is so striking a product of the revolu¬ 
tionary age. This national element in the expansion of the sciences was 
in turn reflected in the decline of the cosmopolitanism that had been so 
characteristic of the small scientific communities of the seventeenth and 
eighteenth centuries. The age of the itinerant international celebrity 
who moved, like Euler, from Basel to St Petersburg, thence to Berlin, 
and back to the court of Catherine the Great, passed with the old 
regimes. Henceforth the scientist stayed within his linguistic area, 
except for shorter visits, communicating with his colleagues through 
the medium of the learned journals, which are so typical a product of 
this period: the Proceedings of the Royal Society (1831), the Comptes Rendus 
de VAcademic des Sciences (1837), Proceedings of the American Philo¬ 
sophical Society (1838), or the new specialist journals such as Crelle’s 
Journal fur Reine und Angewandte Mathematik or the Annales de Chimie et 
de Physique (1797). 


Before we can judge the nature of the impact of the dual revolution on 
the sciences, it is as well to survey briefly what happened to them. On 
the whole the classical physical sciences were not revolutionized. That 



is to say they remained substantially within the terms of reference 
established by Newton, either continuing lines of research already 
followed in the eighteenth century or extending earlier fragmentary 
discoveries and co-ordinating them into wider theoretical systems. The 
most important of the new fields thus opened up (and the one with the 
most immediate technological consequences) was electricity, or rather 
electro-magnetism. Five main dates—four of them in our period— 
mark its decisive progress: 1786, when Galvani discovered the electric 
current, 1799, when Volta constructed his battery, 1800, when elec¬ 
trolysis was discovered, 1820, when Oersted hit upon the connection 
between electricity and magnetism, and 1831, when Faraday established 
the relations between all these forces, and incidentally found himself 
pioneering an approach to physics (in terms of ‘fields’ rather than 
mechanical pushing and pulling) which anticipated the modern age. 
The most important of the new theoretical syntheses was the discovery 
of the laws of thermodynamics, i.e. of the relations between heat and 

The revolution which turned astronomy and physics into modern 
science had occurred in the seventeenth century; that which created 
chemistry was in full swing when our period opens. Of all the sciences 
this was the most closely and immediately linked with industrial prac¬ 
tice, especially with the bleaching and dyeing processes of the textile 
industry. Moreover, its creators were not only practical men, linked 
with other practical men (like Dalton in the Manchester Literary and 
Philosophical Society and Priestley in the Lunar Society of Birmingham), 
but sometimes political revolutionaries, though moderate ones. Two 
were victims of the French Revolution: Priestley, at the hands of the 
Tory mob, for sympathizing excessively with it, the great Lavoisier on 
the guillotine, for not sympathizing enough, or rather for being a big 
business man. 

Chemistry, like physics, was pre-eminently a French science. Its 
virtual founder, Lavoisier (1743-94), published his fundamental Traiti 
Elementaire de Ckimie in the year of revolution itself, and the inspiration 
for the chemical advances, and especially the organization of chemical 
research, in other countries—even in those which were to become the 
major centres of chemical research later, like Germany—was primarily 
French. The major advances before 1789 consisted in bringing some 
elementary order into the tangle of empirical experiment by eluci¬ 
dating certain fundamental chemical processes such as burning, and 
some fundamental elements such as oxygen. They also brought precise 
quantitative measurement and a programme of further research into 
the subject. The crucial concept of an atomic theory (originated by 



Dalton 1803-10) made it possible to invent the chemical formula, and 
with it to open up the study of chemical structure. An abundance of 
new experimental results followed. In the nineteenth century chemistry 
was to be one of the most vigorous of all the sciences, and consequendy 
one which attracted—as does every dynamic subject—a mass of able 
men. However, the atmosphere and the methods of chemistry remained 
largely those of the eighteenth century. 

Chemistry had, however, one revolutionary implication—the dis¬ 
covery that life can be analysed in terms of the inorganic sciences. 
Lavoisier discovered that breathing is a form of combustion of oxygen. 
Woehler discovered (1828) that a compound hitherto encountered only 
in living things—urea—could be synthesized in the laboratory, thus 
opening up the vast new domain of organic chemistry. Yet, though that 
great obstacle to progress, the belief that living matter obeyed funda¬ 
mentally different natural laws from the non-living, was seriously 
crippled, neither the mechanical nor the chemical approach as yet 
enabled the biologist to advance very far. His most fundamental 
advance in this period, Schleiden and Schwann’s discovery that all 
living things were composed of multiplicities of cells (1838-9), estab¬ 
lished a sort of equivalent of the atomic theory for biology; but a 
mature biophysics and biochemistry remained far in the future. 

A revolution even more profound but, by the nature of the subject, 
less obvious than in chemistry took place in mathematics. Unlike physics, 
which remained within the seventeenth-century terms of reference, and 
chemistry, which fanned out on a broad front through the gap opened 
in the eighteenth, mathematics in our period entered an entirely new 
universe, far beyond the world of the Greeks, which still dominated 
arithmetic and plane geometry, and that of the seventeenth century, 
which dominated analysis. Few except mathematicians will appreciate 
the profundity of the innovation brought into science by the theory of 
the functions of complex variables (Gauss, Cauchy, Abel, Jacobi), of 
the theory of groups (Cauchy, Galois) or of vectors (Hamilton). But 
even the layman can grasp the bearing of the revolution by which 
Lobachevsky of Russia (1826-9), an d Bolyai of Hungary (1831) over¬ 
threw that most permanent of intellectual certainties, Euclid’s geometry. 
The entire majestic and unshakable structure of Euclidean logic rests 
on certain assumptions, one of which, the axiom that parallels never 
meet, is neither self-evident nor provable. It may today seem ele¬ 
mentary to construct an equal logical geometry on some other assump¬ 
tion, for instance (Lobachevsky, Bolyai) that an infinity of parallels to 
any line L may pass through point P; or (Riemann) that no parallels 
to line L pass through point P; all the more so as we can construct 



real-life surfaces to which these rules apply. (Thus the earth, insofar 
as it is a globe, conforms to Riemannian and not Euclidean assump¬ 
tions.) But to make these assumptions in the early nineteenth century 
was an act of intellectual daring comparable to putting the sun instead 
of the earth into the centre of the planetary system. 


The mathematical revolution passed unperceived except by a few 
specialists in subjects notorious for their remoteness from everyday life. 
The revolution in the social sciences, on the other hand, could hardly 
fail to strike the layman, because it visibly affected him, generally, it 
was believed, for the worse. The amateur scientists and scholars in 
Thomas Love Peacock’s novels are gently bathed in sympathy or a 
loving ridicule; not so the economists and propagandists of the Steam 
Intellect Society. 

There were to be precise two revolutions, whose courses converge to 
produce Marxism as the most comprehensive synthesis of the social 
sciences. The first, which continued the brilliant pioneering of the 
seventeenth and eighteenth century rationalists, established the equiva¬ 
lent of physical laws for human populations. Its earliest triumph was the 
construction of a systematic deductive theory of political economy, which 
was already far advanced by 1789. The second, which in substance 
belongs to our period and is closely linked with romanticism, was the 
discovery of historical evolution (cf. also above, pp. 237-9, 244-5). 

The daring innovation of the classical rationalists had been to 
demonstrate that something like logically compulsory laws were applic¬ 
able to human consciousness and free decision. The ‘laws of political 
economy’ were of this sort. The conviction that they were as far 
beyond liking and disliking as the laws of gravity (with which they were 
often compared) lent a ruthless certainty to the capitalists of the early 
nineteenth century, and tended to imbue their romantic opponents 
with an equally wild anti-rationalism. In principle the economists 
were of course right, though they grossly exaggerated the universality 
of the postulates on which they based their deductions, the capacity 
of ‘other things’ to 'remain ‘equal’; and also, sometimes, their own 
intellectual abilities. If the population of a town doubles and the 
number of dwellings in it does not rise, then, other things being equal, 
rents must go up, whether anyone wants them to or not. Propositions 
of this kind made the force of the systems of deductive reasoning con¬ 
structed by political economy, mostly in Britain, though also, to a 
diminishing degree, in the old eighteenth century centres of the science, 



France, Italy, and Switzerland. As we have seen, the period from 1776 
to 1830 saw it at its most triumphant. (See above p. 237.) It was 
supplemented by the first systematic presentation of a theory of demo¬ 
graphy purporting to establish a mechanical, and virtually inevitable, 
relationship between the mathematically describable rates of growth of 
population and of the means of subsistence. T. R. Malthus’s Essay on 
Population (1798) was neither as original nor as compelling as its sup¬ 
porters claimed, in the enthusiasm of the discovery that somebody had 
proved that the poor must always remain poor, and why generosity 
and benevolence must make them even poorer. Its importance lies not 
in its intellectual merits, which were moderate, but in the claims it 
staked for a scientific treatment of so very individual and capricious 
a group of decisions as the sexual ones, considered as a social 

The application of mathematical methods to society made another 
major advance in this period. Here the French-speaking scientists led 
the way, assisted no doubt by the superb mathematical atmosphere of 
French education. Thus Adolphe Qudtelet of Belgium, in his epoch- 
making Sur VHomme (1835), showed that the statistical distribution of 
human characteristics obeyed known mathematical laws, from which 
he deduced, with a confidence since deemed excessive, the possibility 
of assimilating the social to the physical sciences. The possibility of 
generalizing statistically about human populations and basing firm 
predictions on such generalization had long been anticipated by the 
theorists of probability (Qu&elet’s point of departure into the social 
sciences), and by practical men who had to rely on it, such as the 
insurance companies. But Quetelet and the flourishing contemporary 
group of statisticians, anthropometrists and social investigators applied 
these methods to far wider fields and created what is still the major 
mathematical tool for the investigation of social phenomena. 

These developments in the social sciences were revolutionary in the 
way chemistry was: by following through advances already theoretically 
made. But the social sciences also had an entirely new and original 
achievement to their credit, which in turn fertilized the biological 
sciences and even physical ones, such as geology. This was the dis¬ 
covery of history as a process of logical evolution, and not merely as a 
chronological succession of events. The links of this innovation with the 
dual revolution are so obvious that they hardly need argument. Thus 
what came to be called sociology (the word was invented by A. Comte 
around 1830) sprang directly out of the critique of capitalism. Comte 
himself, who is normally reckoned its founder, began his career as the 
private secretary to the pioneer utopian socialist, the Count of Saint- 



Simon,* and its most formidable contemporary theorist Karl Marx 
regarded his theory primarily as a tool for changing the world. 

The creation of history as an academic subject is perhaps the least 
important aspect of this historization of the social sciences. It is true 
that an epidemic of history-writing overwhelmed Europe in the first 
half of the nineteenth century. Rarely have more men set down to 
make sense of their world by writing many-volumed accounts of its 
past, incidentally often for the first time: Karamzin in Russia (1818-24), 
Geijer in Sweden (1832-6), Palacky in Bohemia (1836-67) are the 
founding fathers of their respective countries’ historiography. In France 
the urge to understand the present through the past was particularly 
strong, and there the Revolution itself soon became the subject of 
intensive and partisan study by Thiers (1823, 1843), Mignet (1824), 
Buonarroti (1828), Lamartine (1847) and the great Jules Michelet 
(1847-53). It was an heroic period of historiography, but little of the 
work of Guizot, Augustin Thierry and Michelet in France, of the Dane 
Niebuhr and the Swiss Sismondi, of Hallam, Lingard and Carlyle in 
Britain, and of innumerable German professors, now survives except as 
historical document, as literature or occasionally as the record of genius. 

The most lasting results of this historical awakening were in the field 
of documentation and historical technique. To collect the relics of the 
past, written or unwritten, became a universal passion. Perhaps in 
part it was an attempt to safeguard it against the steam-powered 
attacks of the present, though nationalism was probably its most im¬ 
portant stimulus: in hitherto unawakened nations the historian, the 
lexicographer and the folksong collector were often die very founders 
of national consciousness. And so the French set up their Ecole des 
Charles (1821), the English a Public Record Office (1838), the Germans 
began to publish the Monumenta Germaniae Historiae (1826), while the 
doctrine that history must be based on the scrupulous evaluation of 
primary records was laid down by the prolific Leopold von Ranke 
(1795-1886). Meanwhile, as we have seen (cf. chapter 14), the lin¬ 
guists and folklorists produced the fundamental dictionaries of their 
languages and collections of their peoples’ oral traditions. 

The injection of history into the social sciences had its most im¬ 
mediate effects in law, where Friedrich Karl von Savigny founded the 
historical school of jurisprudence (1815), in the study of theology, 
where the application of historical criteria—notably in D. F. Strauss’s 
Leben Jesu (1835)—horrified the fundamentalists, but especially in a 
wholly new science, philology. This also developed primarily in Gcr- 

* Though Saint-Simon's ideas are, as we have seen, not easily classifiable, it seems pedantic 
to abandon the established practice of calling him a utopian socialist. 



many, which was by far the most vigorous centre of diffusion for the 
historical approach. It is not fortuitous that Karl Marx was a German. 
The ostensible stimulus for philology was the conquest of non-European 
societies by Europe. Sir William Jones’s pioneer investigations into 
Sanskrit (1786) were the result of the British conquest of Bengal; 
Champollion’s decipherment of the hieroglyphs (his main work on the 
subject was published in 1824), of Napoleon’s expedition to Egypt; 
Rawlinson’s elucidation of cuneiform writing (1835) reflected the 
ubiquity of the British colonial officers. But in fact philology was not 
confined to discovery, description and classification. In the hands chiefly 
of great German scholars such as Franz Bopp (1791-1867) and the 
brothers Grimm it became the second social science properly so 
described; that is to say the second which discovered general laws 
applicable to so apparently capricious a field as human communication. 
(The first was political economy.) But unlike the laws of political 
economy those of philology were fundamentally historical, or rather 

Their foundation was the discovery that a wide range of languages, 
the Indo-European, were related to one another; supplemented by 
the obvious fact that every existing written European language 
had plainly been transformed in the course of the centuries and was, 
presumably, still undergoing transformation. The problem was not 
merely to prove and classify these relationships by means of scientific 
comparison, a task which was then being widely undertaken (for 
instance, in comparative anatomy, by Cuvier). It was also, and chiefly, 
to elucidate their historic evolution from what must have been a com¬ 
mon ancestor. Philology was the first science which regarded evolution 
as its very core. It was of course fortunate because the Bible is relatively 
silent about the history of language, whereas, as the biologists and 
geologists knew to their cost, it is only too explicit about the creation 
and early history of the globe. Consequently the philologist was less 
likely to be drenched by the waters of Noah’s flood or tripped by the 
obstacles of Genesis 1 than his unhappy confrere. If anything the 
Biblical statement ‘And the whole earth was of one language, and one 
speech’ was on his side. But philology was also fortunate, because of 
all the social sciences it dealt not directly with human beings, who 
always resent the suggestion that their actions are determined by any¬ 
thing except their free choice, but with words, which do not. Conse¬ 
quently it was left free to face what is still the fundamental problem of 

* Paradoxically, the attempt to apply the mathematical-physical method to linguistics 
considered as part of a more general ‘communications theory’ was not undertaken until the 
present century. 



the historical sciences, how to derive the immense, and apparendy 
often capricious variety of individuals in real life, from the operation of 
invariant general laws. 

The pioneer philologists did not in fact advance very far in explaining 
linguistic change, though Bopp himself already propounded a theory 
of the origin of grammatical inflections. But they did establish for the 
Indo-European languages something like a table of genealogy. They 
made a number of inductive generalizations about the relative rates of 
change in different linguistic elements, and a few historical generaliza¬ 
tions of very wide scope, such as ‘Grimm’s Law’ (which showed that all 
Teutonic languages underwent certain consonantal shifts, and, several 
centuries later, a section of Teutonic dialects underwent another similar 
shift). However, throughout these pioneering explorations, they never 
doubted that the evolution of language was not merely a matter of 
establishing chronological sequence or recording variation, but ought 
to be explained by general linguistic laws, analogous to scientific ones. 


The biologists and geologists were less lucky. For them too history was 
the major issue, though the study of the earth was (through mining) 
closely linked with chemistry and the study of life (through medicine) 
closely with physiology, and (through the crucial discovery that the 
chemical elements in living things were the same as those in inorganic 
nature) with chemistry. But for the geologist in any case the most 
obvious problems involved history—for instance, how to explain the 
distribution of land and water, the mountains, and above all the 
strongly marked strata. 

If the historical problem of geology was how to explain the evo¬ 
lution of the earth, that of biology was the double one of how to 
explain the growth of the individual living thing from egg, seed or 
spore, and how to explain the evolution of species. Both were linked by 
the visible evidence of the fossils, of which a particular selection were 
to be found in each rock-stratum and not in others. An English drainage 
engineer, William Smith, discovered in the 1790s that the historic 
succession of strata could be most conveniently dated by their charac¬ 
teristic fossils, thus illuminating both sciences through the down-to- 
earth operations of the Industrial Revolution. 

The problem had been so obvious that attempts to provide theories 
of evolution had already been made; notably, for the world of animals, 
by the stylish but sometimes slapdash zoologist Comte de Buffon (Les 
Epoques de la Nature, 1778). In the decade of the French Revolution 



these gained ground rapidly. The ruminative James Hutton of Edin¬ 
burgh [Theory of the Earth, 1795) and the eccentric Erasmus Darwin, 
who shone in the Birmingham Lunar Society and wrote some of his 
scientific work in verse [Zoonomia, 1794), put forward fairly complete 
evolutionary theories of the earth and of plants and animal species. 
Laplace (1796) even brought out an evolutionary theory of the solar 
system, anticipated by the philosopher Immanuel Kant, and Pierre 
Cabanis, about the same time, envisaged the very mental faculties of 
man as the product of his evolutionary history. In 1809 Lamarck of 
France propounded the first systematic major modern theory of evo¬ 
lution, based on the inheritance of acquired characteristics. 

None of these theories triumphed. Indeed they were soon met by the 
passionate resistance of those, like the Tory Quarterly Review, whose 
‘general attachment to the cause of Revelation is so decided’. 2 What 
was to happen to Noah’s Flood? What to the separate creation of the 
species, not to mention man? What, above all, to social stability? Not 
only simple priests and less simple politicians were troubled by such 
reflections. The great Cuvier, himself the founder of the systematic 
study of fossils ( Recherches sur les ossemens fossiles, 1812), rejected evolution 
in the name of Providence. Better even to imagine a series of catas¬ 
trophes in geological history, followed by a series of divine re-creations— 
it was hardly possible to deny geological as distinct from biological 
change—than to tamper with the fixity of Scripture and of Aristotle. 
The wretched Dr Lawrence, who answered Lamarck by proposing a 
Darwin-like theory of evolution by natural selection, was forced by the 
outcry of the conservatives actually to withdraw his Natural History of 
Man (1819) from circulation. He had been unwise enough not only to 
discuss the evolution of man but also to point out the implications of 
his ideas for contemporary society. His recantation preserved his job, 
assured his future career, and a permanent bad conscience, which he 
assuaged by flattering the courageous Radical printers who from time 
to time pirated his incendiary work. 

Not until the 1830s—until politics had taken another turn to the 
left, we might observe—did mature evolutionary theories break through 
in geology, with the publication of Lyell’s famous Principles of Geology 
(1830-33), which ended the resistance of the Neptunists, who argued, 
with the Bible, that all minerals had been precipitated from aqueous 
solutions which had once covered the earth (cf. Genesis 1, 7-9) and the 
catastrophists, who followed Cuvier’s desperate line of argument. 

In the same decade, Schmerling, researching in Belgium, and 
Boucher de Perthes, who fortunately preferred his hobby of archaeology 
to his post as director of customs at Abbeville, forecast an even more 



alarming development: the actual discovery of those fossils of pre¬ 
historic man whose possibility had been hotly denied.* But scientific 
conservatism was still able to reject this horrifying prospect on the 
grounds of inadequate proof, until the discovery of Neanderthal man 
in 1856. 

It had now to be accepted ( a) that the causes now in operation had in 
the course of time transformed the earth from its original state to the 
present, ( b) that this had taken a vasdy longer time than any calculable 
from the Scriptures and (c) that the succession of geological strata 
revealed a succession of evolving forms of animals, and therefore 
implied biological evolution. Significantly enough, those who accepted 
this most readily, and indeed showed the greatest interest in the 
problem of evolution were the self-confident Radical laymen of the 
British middle classes (always excepting the egregious Dr Andrew Ure, 
best known for his hymns of praise to the factory system). The scientists 
were slow to accept science. This is less surprising when we recall that 
geology was the only science in this period gentlemanly enough (per¬ 
haps because it was practised outdoors, preferably on expensive 
‘geological tours’) to be seriously pursued in the Universities of Oxford 
and Cambridge. 

Biological evolution, however, still lagged. Not until well after the 
defeat of the 1848 revolutions was this explosive subject once again 
tackled; and even then Charles Darwin handled it with considerable 
caution and ambiguity, not to say disingenuousness. Even the parallel 
exploration of evolution through embryology temporarily petered out. 
Here too early German speculative natural philosophers like Johann 
Meckel of Halle (1781-1833) had suggested that during its growth the 
embryo of an organism recapitulated the evolution of its species. But 
this ‘biogenetic law’, though at first supported by men like Rathke, 
who discovered that the embryos of birds pass through a stage when 
they have gill-slits (1829), was rejected by the formidable Von Baer of 
Koenigsberg and St Petersburg—experimental physiology seems to 
have had a marked attraction for workers in the Slavonic and Baltic 
areasf—and this line of thought was not revived until the coming of 

Meanwhile evolutionary theories had made striking progress in the 
study of society. Yet we must not exaggerate this progress. The period 
of the dual revolution belongs to the prehistory of all social sciences 

* His Antiquitis celtiques el anlediluviennes was not published until 1846. In fact several 
human fossils had been discovered from time to time, but lay either unrecognized or simply 
forgotten in the corners of provincial museums. 

t Rathke taught at Dorpat (Tartu) in Estonia, Pander at Riga, the great Czech physi¬ 
ologist Purkinje opened the first physiological research laboratory in Breslau in 1830. 



except political economy, linguistics and perhaps statistics. Even its 
most formidable achievement, Marx and Engels’s coherent theory of 
social evolution was at this time little more than a brilliant guess, put 
forward in a superb pamphlet-sketch—or used as the basis for historical 
narrative. The firm construction of scientific bases for the study of 
human society did not take place until the second half of the 

This is so in the fields of social anthropology or ethnography, of pre¬ 
history, of sociology and of psychology. The fact that these fields of 
study were baptized in our period, or that claims to regard each as a 
self-contained science with its own special regularities were then first 
put forward—John Stuart Mill in 1843 was perhaps the first to claim 
this status firmly for psychology—is important. The fact that special 
Ethnological Societies were founded in France and England (1839, 
1843) to study ‘the races of man’ is equally significant, as is the multi¬ 
plication of social enquiries by statistical means and of statistical 
societies between 1830 and 1848. But the ‘general instructions to 
travellers’ of the French Ethnological Society which urged them ‘to 
discover what memories a people has preserved of its origins, . . . what 
revolutions it has undergone in its language or behaviour ( moeurs ), in 
its arts, sciences and wealth, its power or government, by internal 
causes or foreign invasion’ 3 is little more than a programme; though 
indeed a profoundly historical one. Indeed, what is important about 
the social sciences in our period is less their results (though a consider¬ 
able amount of descriptive material was accumulated) than their firm 
materialist bias, expressed in a determination to explain human social 
differences in terms of the environment, and their equally firm commit¬ 
ment to evolution; for did not Chavannes in 1787, at the outset of the 
science, define ethnology as ‘the history of the progress of peoples 
towards civilization’? 4 

One shady by-product of this early development of the social sciences 
must, however, be briefly mentioned: the theories of race. The existence 
of different races (or rather colours), of men had been much discussed in 
the eighteenth century, when the problem of a single or multiple 
creation of man also exercised the reflective mind. The line between 
the monogenists and the polygenists was not a simple one. The first 
group united believers in evolution and human equality with men 
relieved to find that on this point at least science did not conflict with 
Scripture: the pre-Darwinians Prichard and Lawrence with Cuvier. 
The second, admittedly, included not only bona fide scientists, but also 
racialists from the American slave south. These discussions of race 
produced a lively outburst of anthropometry, mostly based on the 



collection, classification and measurement of skulls, a practice also 
encouraged by the strange contemporary hobby of phrenology, which 
attempted to read character from the configuration of the skull. In 
Britain and France phrenological societies were founded (1823, 1832) 
though the subject soon dropped out of science again. 

At the same time a mixture of nationalism, radicalism, history and 
field observation introduced the equally dangerous topic of permanent 
national or racial characteristics in society. In the 1820s the brothers 
Thierry, pioneer French historians and revolutionaries, had launched 
themselves into the study of the Norman Conquest and of the Gauls, 
which is still reflected in the proverbial first sentence of French school 
readers ('Nos ancStres les Gaulois’) and on the blue packets of the Gauloise 
cigarette. As good radicals they held that the French people were 
descended from the Gauls, the aristocrats from the Teutons who con¬ 
quered them, an argument later used for conservative purposes by 
upper class racialists like the Count of Gobineau. The belief that specific 
racial stock survived—an idea taken up with understandable zeal by 
a Welsh naturalist W. Edwards for the Celts—fitted admirably into an 
age when men purported to discover the romantic and mysterious 
individuality of their nations, to claim messianic missions for them if 
revolutionary, or to ascribe their wealth and power to ‘innate superi¬ 
ority’. (They showed no tendency to ascribe poverty and oppression 
to innate inferiority.) But in mitigation it must be said that the worst 
abuses of racial theories occurred after the end of our period. 


How are we to explain these scientific developments? How, in particu¬ 
lar, are we to link them with the other historical changes of the dual 
revolution? That there are links of the most obvious kind is evident. 
The theoretical problems of the steam engine led the brilliant Sadi 
Carnot in 1824 to the most fundamental physical insight of the nine¬ 
teenth century, the two laws of thermodynamics ( Reflexions sur la 
puissance molrice du feu*), though this was not the only approach to the 
problem. The great advance of geology and palaeontology plainly 
owed much to the zeal with which industrial engineers and builders 
hacked at the earth, and the great importance of mining. Not for 
nothing did Britain become the geological country par excellence, setting 
up a national Geological Survey in 1836. The survey of mineral 
resources provided chemists with innumerable inorganic compounds 
to analyse, mining, ceramics, metallurgy, textiles, the new industries 

* His discovery of the first law was not, however, published until much later. 



of gas-lighting and chemicals, and agriculture stimulated their labours. 
And the enthusiasm of the solid British bourgeois Radical and aristo¬ 
cratic Whig not merely for applied research but for daring advances 
in knowledge from which established science itself recoiled is sufficient 
proof that the scientific progress of our-period cannot be separated 
from the stimulus of the Industrial Revolution. 

Similarly the scientific implications of the French Revolution are 
obvious in the frank or concealed hostility to science with which 
political conservatives or moderates met what they regarded as the 
natural consequences of eighteenth century materialist and rationalist 
subversion. Napoleon’s defeat brought a wave of obscurantism. ‘Mathe¬ 
matics were the chains of human thought,’ cried the slippery Lamartine, 
‘I breathe, and they are broken.’ The struggle between a combative 
pro-scientific and anti-clerical left which has, in its rare moments of 
victory, built most of the institutions which allow French scientists to 
function, and an anti-scientific right, which has done its best to starve 
them, 5 has continued ever since. This does not imply that scientists in 
France or elsewhere were at this period particularly revolutionary. 
Some were, like the golden boy Evariste Galois, who dashed to the 
barricades in 1830, was persecuted as a rebel, and killed in a duel 
provoked by political bullies at the age of twenty-one in 1832. Genera¬ 
tions of mathematicians have fed on the profound ideas he wrote down 
feverishly in what he knew to be his last night on earth. Some were 
frank reactionaries, like the Legitimist Cauchy, though for obvious 
reasons the tradition of the Ecole Polytechnique, which he adorned, 
was militantly anti-royalist. Probably most scientists would have 
reckoned themselves to be left of centre in the post-Napoleonic period 
and some, especially in new nations or hitherto unpolitical communities, 
were forced into positions of political leadership; notably historians, 
linguists and others with obvious connections with national movements. 
Palacky became the chief spokesman of the Czechs in 1848, the seven 
professors of Gottingen who signed a letter of protest in 1837 found 
themselves national figures,* and the Frankfurt Parliament in the 
German 1848 Revolution was notoriously an assembly of professors 
as well as other civil servants. On the other hand, compared with the 
artists and philosophers, the scientists—and especially the natural 
ones—showed only a very low degree of political consciousness, unless 
their subject actually required it. Outside the Catholic countries, for 
instance, they showed a capacity for combining science with a tranquil 
religious orthodoxy which surprises the student of the post-Dar¬ 
winian era. 

* They included the brothers Grimm. 



Such direct derivations explain some things about scientific develop¬ 
ment between 1789 and 1848, but not much. Clearly the indirect 
effects of contemporary events were more important. No one could 
fail to observe that the world was transformed more radically than ever 
before in this era. No thinking person could fail to be awed, shaken, 
and mentally stimulated by these convulsions and transformations. It 
is hardly surprising that patterns of thought derived from the rapid 
social changes, the profound revolutions, the systematic replacement of 
customary or traditional institutions by radical rationalist innovations, 
should become acceptable. Is it possible to connect this visible emer¬ 
gence of revolution with the readiness of the unworldly mathematicians 
to break through hitherto operative thought barriers? We cannot tell, 
though we know that the adoption of revolutionary new lines of 
thought is normally prevented not by their intrinsic difficulty, but by 
their conflict with tacit assumptions about what is or is not ‘natural’. 
The very terms ‘irrational’ number (for numbers like \/ 2 ) or ‘imagin¬ 
ary’ number (for numbers like \/ -1 ) indicate the nature of the diffi¬ 
culty. Once we decide that they are no more or less rational or real 
than any others, all is plain sailing. But it may take an age of profound 
transformation to nerve thinkers to make such decisions; and indeed 
imaginary or complex variables in mathematics, treated with puzzled 
caution in the eighteenth century, only came fully into their own after 
the Revolution. 

Leaving aside mathematics, it was only to be expected that patterns 
drawn from the transformations of society would tempt scientists in 
fields to which such analogies appeared applicable; for instance to 
introduce dynamic evolutionary concepts into hitherto static ones. 
This could either happen directly, or through the intermediary of some 
other science. Thus the concept of the Industrial Revolution, which is 
fundamental to history and much of modern economics, was introduced 
in the 1820s frankly as an analogy to the French Revolution. Charles 
Darwin derived the mechanism of ‘natural selection’ by analogy with 
the model of capitalist competition, which he took from Malthus (the 
‘struggle for existence’). The vogue for catastrophic theories in geology, 
1790-1830, may also owe something to the familiarity of this generation 
with violent convulsions of society. 

Nevertheless, outside the most obviously social sciences, it is unwise 
to put too much weight on such external influences. The world of 
thought is to some extent autonomous: its movements are, as it were, 
on the same historical wave-length as those outside, but they are not 
mere echoes of them. Thus for instance, the catastrophist theories of 
geology also owed something to the Protestant, and especially the 



Calvinist, insistence on the arbitrary omnipotence of the Lord. Such 
theories were largely a monopoly of Protestant, as distinct from Catholic 
or agnostic workers. If developments in the field of the sciences parallel 
those elsewhere, it is not because each of them can be hooked on to a 
corresponding aspect of economic or political ones in any simple way. 

Yet the links are hard to deny. The main currents of general thought 
in our period have their correspondence in the specialized field of 
science, and this is what enables us to establish a parallelism between 
sciences and arts or between both and politico-social attitudes. Thus 
‘classicism’ and ‘romanticism’ existed in the sciences, and as we have 
seen each fitted in with a particular approach to human society. The 
equation of classicism (or in intellectual terms, the rationalist, mechan¬ 
ist Newtonian universe of the Enlightenment) with the milieu of 
bourgeois liberalism, and of romanticism (or in intellectual terms the 
so-called ‘Natural Philosophy’) with its opponents, is obviously an over¬ 
simplification, and breaks down altogether after 1830. Yet it represents 
a certain aspect of truth. Until the rise of theories like modern socialism 
had firmly anchored revolutionary thought in the rationalist past 
(cfi chapter r3), such sciences as physics, chemistry and astronomy 
marched with Anglo-French bourgeois liberalism. For instance, the 
plebeian revolutionaries of the Year II were inspired by Rousseau 
rather than Voltaire, and suspected Lavoisier (whom they executed) 
and Laplace not merely because of their connections with the old 
regime, but for reasons similar to those which led the poet William 
Blake to excoriate Newton.* Conversely ‘natural history’ was congenial, 
for it represented the road to the spontaneity of true and unspoiled 
nature. The Jacobin dictatorship, which dissolved the French Academy, 
founded no less than twelve research chairs at the Jardin des Plantes. 
Similarly it was in Germany, where classical liberalism was weak 
(cf. chapter 13), that a rival scientific ideology to the classical was most 
popular. This was ‘Natural Philosophy’. 

It is easy to underestimate ‘natural philosophy’, because it conflicts 
so much with what we have rightly come to regard as science. It was 
speculative and intuitive. It sought for expressions of the world spirit, 
or life, of the mysterious organic union of all things with each other, 
and a good many other things which resisted precise quantitative 
measurement or Cartesian clarity. Indeed, it was flatly in revolt 
against mechanical materialism, against Newton, sometimes against 
reason itself. The great Goethe wasted a considerable amount of his 
Olympian time trying to disprove Newton’s optics, for no better reason 

* This suspicion of Newtonian science did not extend to applied work, whose economic 
and military value was evident. 



than that he did not feel happy about a theory which failed to explain 
the colours by the interaction of the principles of light and darkness. 
Such an aberration would cause nothing but pained surprise in the 
Ecole Polytechnique, where the persistent preference of the Germans 
for the tangled Kepler, with his load of mysticism, over the lucid per¬ 
fection of the Principia was incomprehensible. What indeed was one to 
make of Lorenz Oken’s 

‘The action or the life of God consists in eternally manifesting, 
eternally contemplating itself in unity and duality, externally divid¬ 
ing itself and still remaining one. . . . Polarity is the first force which 
appears in the world. . . . The law of causality is a law of polarity. 
Causality is an act of generation. The sex is rooted in the first move¬ 
ment of the world. ... In everything, therefore, there are two 
processes, one individualizing, vitalizing, and one universalizing, 
destructive.’ 9 

What indeed? Bertrand Russell’s blank incomprehension of Hegel, 
who operated in such terms, is a good illustration of the eighteenth- 
century rationalist’s answer to this rhetorical question. On the other 
hand the debt which Marx and Engels frankly acknowledged to natural 
philosophy* would warn us that it cannot be regarded as mere verbiage. 
The point about it is that it worked. It produced not merely scientific 
effort—Lorenz Oken founded the liberal German Deutsche Natur- 
forscherversammlung and inspired the British Association for the Advancement 
of Science ■—but fruitful results. The cell theory in biology, a good deal 
of morphology, embryology, philology and much of the historical 
and evolutionary element in all the sciences, were primarily of‘roman¬ 
tic’ inspiration. Admittedly even in its chosen field of biology ‘roman¬ 
ticism’ had eventually to be supplemented by the cool classicism of 
Claude Bernard (1813-78), the founder of modern physiology. On the 
Other hand even in the physico-chemical sciences, which remained the 
stronghold of ‘classicism’, the speculations of the natural philosophers 
about such mysterious subjects as electricity and magnetism, brought 
advances. Hans Christain Oersted of Copenhagen, the disciple of the 
cloudy Schelling, sought and found the connection between the two 
when he demonstrated the magnetical effect of electric currents 
in 1820. Both approaches to science, in effect, mixed. They never 
quite merged, even in Marx who was more clearly aware than most of 
the combined intellectual origins of his thought. On the whole the 

* Engels’ Anti-Duehring and Feuerbach contain a qualified defence of it, as well as of Kepler 
as against Newton. 



‘romantic’ approach served as a stimulus for new ideas and departures, 
and then once again dropped out of the sciences. But in our period it 
cannot be neglected. 

If it cannot be neglected as a purely scientific stimulus, it can be 
even less neglected by the historian of ideas and opinions, for whom even 
absurd and false ideas are facts and historical forces. We cannot write 
off a movement which captured or influenced men of the highest 
intellectual calibre, such as Goethe, Hegel and the young Marx. We 
can merely seek to understand the deep dissatisfaction with the 
‘classical’ eighteenth-century Anglo-French view of the world, whose 
titanic achievements in science and in society were undeniable, but whose 
narrowness and limitations were also increasingly evident in the period of 
the two revolutions. To be aware of these limits and to seek, often by 
intuition rather than analysis, the terms in which a more satisfactory 
picture of the world could be constructed, was not actually to construct 
it. Nor were the visions of an evolutionary, interconnected, dialectical 
universe which the natural philosophers expressed, proofs or even 
adequate formulations. But they reflected real problems—even real 
problems in the physical sciences—and they anticipated the trans¬ 
formations and extensions of the world of sciences which have produced 
our modem scientific universe. And in their way they reflected the 
impact of the dual revolution, which left no aspect of human life 




Pauperism and proletariat are the suppurating ulcers which have sprung from the 
organism of the modern states . Can they be healed? The communist doctors propose the 
complete destruction and annihilation of the existing organism . . . . One thing is 
certain , if these men gain the power to act , there will be not a political but a social 
revolution , a war against all property , a complete anarchy . Would this in turn give way 
to new national states , and on what moral and social foundations? Who shall lift the veil 
of the future? And what part will be played by Russia? *1 sit on the shore and wait for 
the wind/ says an old Russian proverb . 

Haxthausen, Studien ueber . . . Russland (1847)' 


We began by surveying the state of the world in 1789. Let us 
conclude by glancing at it some fifty years later, at the end of the most 
revolutionary half-century in the history recorded up to that 

It was an age of superlatives. The. numerous new compendia of 
statistics in which this era of counting and calculation sought to record 
all aspects of the known world* could conclude with justice that 
virtually every measurable quantity was greater (or smaller) than ever 
before. The known, mapped and intercommunicating area of the 
world was larger than ever before, its communications unbelievably 
speedier. The population of the world was greater than ever before; in 
several cases greater beyond all expectation or previous probability. 
Cities of vast size multiplied faster than ever before. Industrial pro¬ 
duction reached astronomic figures: in the 1840s something like 640 
million tons of coal were hacked from the interior of the earth. They 
were exceeded only by the even more extraordinary figures for inter¬ 
national commerce, which had multiplied fourfold since 1780 to reach 
something like 800 millions of pound sterling’s worth, and very much 
more in the currency of less solid and stable units of currency. 

Science had never been more triumphant; knowledge had never 

* About fifty major compendia of this type were published between 1800 and 1848, not 
counting the statistics of governments (censuses, official enquiries, etc.) or the numerous new 
specialist or economic journals filled with statistical tables. 



been more widespread. Over four thousand newspapers informed the 
citizens of the world and the number of books published annually in 
Britain, France, Germany and the USA alone ran well into five figures. 
Human invention was climbing more dazzling peaks every year. The 
Argand lamp (1782-4) had barely revolutionized artificial lighting—it 
was the first major advance since the oil-lamp and candle—when the 
gigantic laboratories known as gasworks, sending their products through 
endless subterranean pipes, began to illuminate the factories* and soon 
after the cities of Europe: London from 1807, Dublin from 1818, Paris 
from 1819, even remote Sydney in 1841. And already the electric arc- 
light was known. Professor Wheatstone of London was already planning 
to link England with France by means of a submarine electric telegraph. 
Forty-eight millions of passengers already used the railways of the 
United Kingdom in a single year (1845). Men and women could 
already be hurtled along three thousand (1846)—before 1850 along 
over six thousand—miles of line in Great Britain, along nine thousand 
in the USA. Regular steamship services already linked Europe and 
America, Europe and the Indies. 

No doubt these triumphs had their dark side, though these were not 
so readily to be summarized in statistical tables. How was one to find 
quantitative expression for the fact, which few would today deny, that 
the Industrial Revolution created the ugliest world in which man has 
ever lived, as the grim and stinking, fog-bound back streets of Man¬ 
chester already testified? Or, by uprooting men and women in unprece¬ 
dented numbers and depriving them of the certainties of the ages, 
probably the unhappiest world? Nevertheless, we can forgive the 
champions of progress in the 1840s their confidence and their deter¬ 
mination ‘that commerce may go freely forth, leading civilization with 
one hand, and peace with the other, to render mankind happier, wiser, 
better’. ‘Sir,’ said Lord Palmerston, continuing this rosy statement in 
the blackest of years, 1842, ‘this is the dispensation of Providence.’ 2 
Nobody could deny that there was poverty of the most shocking kind. 
Many held that it was even increasing and deepening. And yet, by the 
all-time criteria which measured the triumphs of industry and science, 
could even the gloomiest of rational observers maintain that in material 
terms it was worse than at any time in the past, or even than in un¬ 
industrialized countries in the present? He could not. It was sufficiently 
bitter accusation that the material prosperity of the labouring poor was 
often no better than in the dark past, and sometimes worse than in 
periods within living memory. The champions of progress attempted 

* Boulton and Watt introduced it in 1798, the cotton-mills of Philips and Lee in Man¬ 
chester permanently employed a thousand burners from 1805. 


conclusion: towards 1848 

to fend it off with the argument that this was due not to the operations 
of the new bourgeois society, but on the contrary to the obstacles which 
the old feudalism, monarchy and aristocracy still placed in the way of 
perfect free enterprise. The new socialists, on the contrary, held that it 
was due to the very operations of that system. But both agreed that 
these were growing-pains. The ones held that they would be overcome 
within the framework of capitalism, the others that they were not likely 
to be, but both rightly believed that human life faced a prospect of 
material improvement to equal the advance in man’s control over the 
forces of nature. 

When we come to analyse the social and political structure of the 
world in the 1840s, however, we leave the world of superlatives for that 
of modest qualified statements. The bulk of the world’s inhabitants 
continued to be peasants as before, though there were a few areas— 
notably Britain—where agriculture was already the occupation of a 
small minority, and the urban population already on the verge of 
exceeding the rural, as it did for the first time in the census of 1851. 
There were proportionately fewer slaves, for the international slave- 
trade had been officially abolished in 1815 and actual slavery in the 
British colonies in 1834, and in the liberated Spanish and French ones 
in and after the French Revolution. However, while the West Indies 
were now, with some non-British exceptions, an area of legally free 
agriculture, numerically slavery continued to expand in its two great 
remaining strongholds, Brazil and the Southern USA, stimulated by 
the very progress of industry and commerce which opposed all restraints 
of goods and persons, and official prohibition made the slave trade more 
lucrative. The approximate price of a field-hand in the American 
South was 300 dollars in 1795 but between 1,200 and 1,800 dollars in 
i860; 3 the number of slaves in the USA rose from 700,000 in 1790 to 
2,500,000 in 1840 and 3,200,000 in 1850. They still came from 
Africa, but were also increasingly bred for sale within the slave-owning 
area, e.g. in the border states of the USA for sale to the rapidly 
expanding cotton-belt. 

Moreover, already systems of semi-slavery like the export of ‘inden¬ 
tured labour’ from India to the sugar-islands of the Indian Ocean and 
the West Indies were developing. 

Serfdom or the legal bonding of peasants had been abolished over 
a large part of Europe, though this had made little difference to the 
actual situation of the rural poor in such areas of traditional latifundist 
cultivation as Sicily or Andalusia. However, serfdom persisted in its 
chief European strongholds, though after great initial expansion its 
numbers remained steady in Russia at between ten and eleven million 



males after 1811, that is to say it declined in relative terms.* Neverthe¬ 
less, serf agriculture (unlike slave agriculture) was clearly on the decline, 
its economic disadvantages being increasingly evident, and—especially 
from the 1840s—the rebelliousness of the peasantry being increasingly 
marked. The greatest serf rising was probably that in Austrian Galicia 
in 1846, the prelude to general emancipation by the 1848 revolution. 
But even in Russia there were 148 outbreaks of peasant unrest in 1826- 
34, 216 in 1835-44, 348 in 1844-54, culminating in the 474 outbreaks 
of the last years preceding the emancipation of 1861. 5 

At the other end of the social pyramid, the position of the landed 
aristocrat also changed less than might have been thought, except in 
countries of direct peasant revolution like France. No doubt there were 
now countries—France and the USA for instance—where the richest 
men were no longer landed proprietors (except insofar as they also 
bought themselves estates as a badge of their entry into the highest 
class, like the Rothschilds). However, even in Britain in the 1840s the 
greatest concentrations of wealth were certainly still those of the 
peerage, and in the Southern USA the cotton-planters even created 
for themselves a provincial caricature of aristocratic society, inspired 
by Walter Scott, ‘chivalry 1 , ‘romance’ and other concepts which had 
little bearing in the negro slaves on whom they battened and the red¬ 
necked puritan farmers eating their maize and fat pork. Of course this 
aristocratic firmness concealed a change: noble incomes increasingly 
depended on the industry, the stocks and shares, the real estate 
developments of the despised bourgeoisie. 

The ‘middle classes’, of course, had increased rapidly, but their 
numbers even so were not overwhelmingly large. In 1801 there had 
been about 100,000 tax-payers earning above £150 a year in Britain; 
at the end of our period there may have been about 340,000;® say, 
with large families, a million and a half persons out of a total population 
of 21 millions (1851)4 Naturally the number of those who sought to 
follow middle class standards and ways of life was very much larger. 
Not all these were very rich; a good guess J is that the number of those 
earning over £5,000 a year was about 4,000—which includes the aris¬ 
tocracy; a figure not too incompatible with that of the presumable 
employers of the 7,579 domestic coachmen who adorned the British 
streets. We may assume that the proportion of the ‘middle classes’ ip 

* The extension of serfdom under Catherine II and Paul (1762-1801) increased it from 
about 3*8 million males to 10*4 millions in 1811. 4 

t Such estimates are arbitrary, but assuming that everyone classifiable in the middle class 
kept at least one servant, the 674,000 female ‘general domestic servants , in 1851 gives us 
something beyond the maximum of‘middle class’ households, the roughly 50,000 cooks (the 
numbers of housemaids and housekeepers were about the same) a minimum. 

% By the eminent statistician William Farr in the Statistical Journal, 1857, p. 102. ' 


conclusion: towards 1848 

other countries was not notably higher than this, and indeed was 
generally rather lower. 

The working class (including the new proletariat of factory, mine, 
railway, etc.) naturally grew at the fastest fate of all. Nevertheless, 
except in Britain it could at best be counted in hundreds of thousands 
rather than millions. Measured against the total population of the 
world, it was still a numerically negligible, and in any case—except 
once again for Britain and small nuclei elsewhere—an unorganized 
one. Yet, as we have seen, its political importance was already immense, 
and quite disproportionate to its size or achievements. 

The political structure of the world was also very considerably 
transformed by the 1840s; and yet by no means as much as the san¬ 
guine (or pessimistic) observer might have anticipated in 1800. Mon¬ 
archy still remained overwhelmingly the most common mode of 
governing states, except on the American continent; and even there 
one of the largest countries (Brazil) was an Empire, and another 
(Mexico) had at least experimented with imperial titles under General 
Iturbide (Augustin I) from 1822 to 1833. It is true that several Euro¬ 
pean kingdoms, including France, could now be described as con¬ 
stitutional monarchies, but outside a band of such regimes along the 
eastern edge of the Atlantic, absolute monarchy prevailed everywhere. 
It is true that there were by the 1840s several new states, the product 
of revolution; Belgium, Serbia, Greece and a quiverful of Latin 
American ones. Yet, though Belgium was an industrial power of 
importance (admittedly to a large extent because it moved in the wake 
of its greater French neighbour*), the most important of the revo¬ 
lutionary states was the one which had already existed in 1789, the 
USA. It enjoyed two immense advantages: the absence of any strong 
neighbours or rival powers which could, or indeed wanted to, prevent 
its expansion across the huge continent to the Pacific—the French had 
actually sold it an area as large as the then USA in the ‘Louisiana 
Purchase’ of 1803—and an extraordinarily rapid rate of economic 
expansion. The former advantage was also shared by Brazil, which, 
separating peacefully from Portugal, escaped the fragmentation which 
a ge.neration of revolutionary war brought to most of Spanish America; 
but its wealth of resources remained virtually unexploited. 

Still, there had been great changes. Moreover, since about 1830 their 
momentum was visibly increasing. The revolution of 1830 introduced 
moderate liberal middle class constitutions—anti-democratic butequally 
plainly anti-aristocratic—in the chief states of Western Europe. There 

* About a third of the Belgian coal and pig iron output was exported, almost entirely 
to France. 



were no doubt compromises, imposed by the fear of a mass revolution 
which would go beyond moderate middle class aspirations. They left 
the landed classes over-represented in government, as in Britain, and 
large sectors of the new—and especially the most dynamic industrial 
—middle classes unrepresented, as in France. Yet they were compro¬ 
mises which decisely tilted the political balance towards the middle 
classes. On all matters that counted the British industrialists got their 
way after 1832; the capacity to abolish the corn-laws was well worth 
the absention from the more extreme republican and anti-clerical 
proposals of the Utilitarians. There can be no doubt that in Western 
Europe middle class Liberalism (though not democratic radicalism) 
was in the ascendant. Its chief opponents—Conservatives in Britain, 
blocs generally rallying round the Catholic Church elsewhere—were 
on the defensive and knew it. 

However, even radical democracy had made major advances. After fifty 
years of hesitation and hostility, the pressure of the frontiersmen and 
farmers had finally imposed it on the USA under President Andrew 
Jackson (1829-37), at roughly the same time as the European revo¬ 
lution regained its momentum. At the very end of our period (1847) a 
civil war between radicals and Catholics in Switzerland brought it to 
that country. But few among moderate middle class liberals as yet 
thought that this system of government, advocated mainly by left-wing 
revolutionaries, adapted, it seemed, at best for the rude petty producers 
and traders of mountain or prairie, would one day become the charac¬ 
teristic political framework of capitalism, defended as such against the 
onslaughts of the very people who were in the 1840s advocating 

Only in international politics had there been an apparendy whole¬ 
sale and virtually unqualified revolution. The world of the 1840s was 
completely dominated by the European powers, political and economic, 
supplemented by the growing USA. The Opium War of 1839-42 had 
demonstrated that the only surviving non-European great power, the 
Chinese Empire, was helpless in the face of western military and 
economic aggression. Nothing, it seemed, could henceforth stand in the 
way of a few western gunboats or regiments bringing with them trade 
and bibles. And within this general western domination, Britain was 
supreme, thanks to her possession of more gunboats, trade and bibles 
than anyone else. So absolute was this British supremacy that it hardly 
needed political control to operate. There were no other colonial 
powers left, except by grace of the British, and consequently no rivals. 
The French empire was reduced to a few scattered islands and trading 
posts, though in the process of reviving itself across the Mediterranean 


conclusion: towards 1848 

in Algeria. The Dutch, restored in Indonesia under the watchful eye 
of the new British entrepot of Singapore, no longer competed; the 
Spaniards retained Cuba, the Philippines and a few vague claims in 
Africa; the Portuguese colonies were rightly forgotten. British trade 
dominated the independent Argentine, Brazil and the Southern USA 
as much as the Spanish colony of Cuba or the British ones in India. 
British investments had their powerful stake in the Northern USA, 
and indeed wherever economic development took place. Never in the 
entire history of the world has a single power exercised a world hege¬ 
mony like that of the British in the middle of the nineteenth century, 
for even the greatest empires or hegemonies of the past had been merely 
regional—the Chinese, the Mohammedan, the Roman. Never since 
then has any single power succeeded in re-establishing a comparable 
hegemony, nor indeed is any one likely to in the foreseeable future; 
for no power has since been able to claim the exclusive status of 
‘workshop of the world’. 

Nevertheless, the future decline of Britain was already visible. 
Intelligent observers even in the 1830s and 1840s, like de Tocqueville 
and Haxthausen, already predicted that the size and potential resources 
of the USA and Russia would eventually make them into the twin 
giants of the world; within Europe Germany (as Frederick Engels 
predicted in 1844) would also soon compete on equal terms. Only 
France had decisively dropped out of the competition for international 
hegemony, though this was not yet so evident as to reassure suspicious 
British and other statesmen. 

In brief, the world of the 1840s was out of balance. The forces of 
economic, technical and social change released in the past half- 
century were unprecedented, and even to the most superficial observer, 
irresistible. Their institutional consequences, on the other hand, were 
as yet modest. It was, for instance, inevitable that sooner or later legal 
slavery and serfdom (except as relics in remote regions as yet untouched 
by the new economy) would have to go, as it was inevitable that Britain 
could not for ever remain the only industrialized country. It was 
inevitable that landed aristocracies and absolute monarchies 'must 
retreat in all countries in which a strong bourgeoisie was developing, 
whatever the political compromises or formulae found for retaining 
status, influence and even political power. Moreover, it was inevitable 
that the injection of political consciousness and permanent political 
activitity among the masses, which was the great legacy of the French 
Revolution, must sooner or later mean that these masses were allowed 
to play a formal part in politics. And given the remarkable acceleration 
of social change since 1830, and the revival of the world revolutionary 



movement, it was clearly inevitable that changes—whatever their 
precise institutional nature—could not be long delayed.* 

All this would have been enough to give the men of the 1840s the 
consciousness of impending change. But not enough to explain, what 
was widely felt throughout Europe, the consciousness of impending 
social revolution. It was, significantly enough, not confined to revo¬ 
lutionaries, who expressed it with the greatest elaboration, nor'to the 
ruling classes, whose fear of the massed poor is never far below the 
surface in times of social change. The poor themselves felt it. The 
literate strata of the people expressed it. ‘All well-informed people,’ 
wrote the American consul from Amsterdam during the hunger of 1847, 
reporting the sentiments of the German emigrants passing through 
Holland, ‘express the belief that the present crisis is so deeply interwoven 
in the events of the present period that “it” is but the commencement 
of that great Revolution, which they consider sooner or later is to 
dissolve the present present constitution of things.’ 7 

The reason was that the crisis in what remained of the old society 
appeared to coincide with a crisis of the new. Looking back on the 
1840s it is easy to think that the socialists who predicted the imminent 
final crisis of capitalism were dreamers confusing their hopes with 
realistic prospects. For in fact what followed was not the breakdown of 
capitalism, but its most rapid and unchallenged period of expansion 
and triumph. Yet in the 1830s and 1840s it was far from evident that 
the new economy could or would overcome its difficulties which merely 
seemed to increase with its power to produce larger and larger quan¬ 
tities of goods by more and more revolutionary methods. Its very 
theorists were haunted by the prospect of the ‘stationary state’, that 
running down of the motive power which drove the economy forward, 
and which (unlike the theorists of the eighteenth century or those of the 
subsequent period) they believed to be imminent rather than merely 
in theoretical reserve, Its very champions were in two minds about its 
future. In France men who were to be the captains of high finance and 
heavy industry (the Saint-Simonians) were in the 1830s still undecided 
as to whether socialism or capitalism was. the best way of achieving the 
triumph of the industrial society. In the USA men like Horace Greeley, 
who have become immortal as the prophets of individualist expansion 
(‘Go west, young man’ is his phrase), were in the 1840s adherents of 
utopian socialism, founding and expounding the merits of Fourierist 
‘Phalanxes’, those kibbuz -like communes which fit so badly into what 

♦ This does not of course mean that all the precise changes then widely predicted as 
inevitable would necessarily come about; for instance, the universal triumph of free trade, 
of peace, of sovereign representative assemblies, or the disappearance of monarchs or the 
Roman Catholic Church. 


conclusion: towards 1848 

is now thought to be ‘Americanism’. The very businessmen were 
desperate. It may in retrospect seem incomprehensible that Quaker 
businessmen like John Bright and successful cotton-manufacturers of 
Lancashire, in the midst of their most dynamic period of expansion, 
should have been prepared to plunge their country into chaos, hunger and 
riot by a general political lock-out, merely in order to abolish tariffs. 8 
Yet in the terrible year of 1841-2 it might well seem to the thoughtful 
capitalist that industry faced not merely inconvenience and loss, but 
general strangulation, unless the obstacles to its further expansion were 
immediately removed. 

For the mass of the common people the problem was even simpler. 
As we have seen their condition in the large cities and manufacturing 
districts of Western and Central Europe pushed them inevitably towards 
social revolution. Their hatred of the rich and the great of that bitter 
world in which they lived, and their dream of a new and better world, 
gave their desperation eyes and a purpose, even though only some of 
them, mainly in Britain and France, were conscious of that purpose. 
Their organization or facility for collective action gave them power. 
The great awakening of the French Revolution had taught them that 
common men need not suffer injustices meekly: ‘the nations knew 
nothing before, and the people thought that kings were gods upon the 
earth and that they were bound to say that whatever they did was 
well done. Through this present change it is more difficult to rule 
the people.’ 9 

This was the ‘spectre of communism’ which haunted Europe, the 
fear of ‘the proletariat’ which affected not merely factory-owners in 
Lancashire or Northern France but civil servants in rural Germany, 
priests in Rome and professors everywhere. And with justice. For the 
revolution which broke out in the first months of 1848 was not a social 
revolution merely in the sense that it involved and mobilized all social 
classes. It was in the literal sense the rising of the labouring poor in the 
cities—especially the capital cities—of Western and Central Europe. 
Theirs, and theirs almost alone, was the force which toppled the old 
regimes from Palermo to the borders of Russia. When the dust settled 
on their ruins, workers—in France actually socialist workers—were seen 
to be standing on them, demanding not merely bread and employment, 
but a new state and society. 

While the labouring poor stirred, the increasing weakness and 
obsolescence of the old regimes of Europe multiplied crises within the 
world of the rich and influential. In themselves these were not of great 
moment. Had they occurred at a different time, or in systems which 
allowed the different sections of the ruling classes to adjust their 



rivalries peaceably, they would no more have led to revolution than the 
perennial squabbles of court factions in eighteenth-century Russia led 
to the fall of Tsarism. In Britain and Belgium, for instance, there was 
plenty of conflict between agrarians and industrialists, and different 
sections of each. But it was clearly understood that the transformations 
of 1830-32 had decided the issue of power in favour of the industrialists, 
that nevertheless the political status quo could only be frozen at the 
risk of revolution, and that this must be avoided at all costs, Conse¬ 
quently the bitter struggle between free-trading British industrialists 
and the agrarian protectionists over the Com Laws could be waged 
and won (1846) in the midst of the Chartist ferment without for a 
moment jeopardizing the unity of all ruling classes against the threat 
of universal suffrage. In Belgium the victory of the Liberals over the 
Catholics in the 1847 elections detached the industrialists from the 
ranks of potential revolutionaries, and a carefully judged electoral 
reform in 1848, which doubled the electorate,* removed the discontents 
of crucial sections of the lower middle class. There was no 1848 revo¬ 
lution, though in terms of actual suffering Belgium (or rather Flanders) 
was probably worse off than any other part of Western Europe except 

But in absolutist Europe the rigidity of the political regimes in 1815, 
which had been designed to fend off all change of a liberal or national 
kind, left even the most moderate of oppositionists no choice other than 
that of the status quo or revolution. They might not be ready to revolt 
themselves, but, unless there should be an irreversible social revolution, 
they would gain nothing unless someone did. The regimes of 1815 had 
to go sooner or later. They knew it themselves. The consciousness that 
‘history was against them’ sapped their will to resist, as the fact that it 
was sapped their ability to do so. In 1848 the first faint puff of revolution 
—often of revolution abroad—blew them away. But unless there was at 
least such a puff, they would not go. And conversely the relatively 
minor frictions within such states—the troubles of rulers with the 
Prussian and Hungarian diets, the election of a ‘liberal’ Pope in 1846 
(i.e. one anxious to bring the Papacy a few inches nearer to the nine¬ 
teenth century), the resentment of a royal mistress in Bavaria, etc.— 
turned into major political vibrations. 

In theory the France of Louis Philippe should have shared the 
political flexibility of Britain, Belgium and the Dutch and Scandi¬ 
navians. In practice it did not. For though it was clear that the ruling 
class of France—the bankers, financiers and one or two large indus- 
rialists—represented only a section of the middle class interest, and 
* It was still no more than 80,000 out of 4,000,000. 


conclusion: towards 1848 

moreover, one whose economic policy was disliked by the more dynamic 
industrialist elements as well as by various vested interests, the memory 
of the Revolution of 1789 stood in the way of reform. For the opposition 
consisted not merely of the discontented bourgeoisie, but of the politi¬ 
cally decisive lower middle class, especially of Paris (which voted 
against the government in spite of the restricted suffrage in 1846). To 
widen the franchise might thus let in the potential Jacobins, the 
Radicals who, but for the official ban, would be Republicans. Louis 
Philippe’s premier, the historian Guizot (1840-48), thus preferred to 
leave the broadening of the social base of the regime to economic 
development, which would automatically increase the number of 
citizens with the property qualification to enter politics. In fact it did 
so. The electorate rose from 166,000 in 1831 to 241,000 in 1846. But 
it did not do so sufficiently. Fear of the Jacobin republickept the French 
political structure rigid, and the French political situation increasingly 
tense. Under British conditions a public political campaign by means 
of after-dinner speeches, such as the French opposition launched in 
1847, would have been perfectly harmless. Under French conditions 
it was the prelude to revolution. 

For, like the other crises in European ruling-class politics, it coincided 
with a social catastrophe: the great depression which swept across the 
continent from the middle 1840s. Harvests—and especially the potato 
crop—failed. Entire populations such as those of Ireland, and to a 
lesser extent Silesia and Flanders, starved. 1 " Food-prices rose. Industrial 
depression multiplied unemployment, and the masses of the urban 
labouring poor were deprived of their modest income at the very 
moment when their cost of living rocketed. The situation varied from 
one country to another and within each, and—fortunately for the 
existing regimes—the most miserable populations, such as the Irish and 
Flemish, or some of the provincial factory workers were also politically 
among the most immature: the cotton operatives of the Nord depart¬ 
ment of France, for instance, took out their desperation on the equally 
desperate Belgian immigrants who flooded into Northern France, 
rather than on the government or even the employers. Moreover, in 
the most industrialized country, the sharpest edge of discontent had 
already been taken away by the great industrial and railway-building 
boom of the middle 1840s. 1846-8 were bad years, but not so bad as 
1841-2, and what was more, they were merely a sharp dip in what was 
now visibly an ascending slope of economic prosperity. But, taking 
Western and Central Europe as a whole, the catastrophe of 1846-8 was 

* In the flax-growing districts of Flanders the population dropped by 5 per cent between 
1846 and 1848. 



universal and the mood of the masses, always pretty close to subsistence 
level, tense and impassioned. 

A European economic cataclysm thus coincided with the visible 
corrosion of the old regimes. A peasant rising in Galicia in 1846; the 
election of a ‘liberal’ Pope in the same year; a civil war between radicals 
and Catholics in Switzerland in late 1847, won by the radicals; one of 
the perennial Sicilian autonomist insurrections in Palermo in early 
1848: they were not merely straws in the wind, they were the first squalls 
of the gale. Everyone knew it. Rarely has revolution been more uni¬ 
versally predicted, though not necessarily for the right countries or 
the right dates. An entire continent waited, ready by now to pass the 
news of revolution almost instantly from city to city by means of the 
electric telegraph. In 1831 Victor Hugo had written that he already 
heard the dull sound of revolution, still deep down in the earth, 
pushing out under every kingdom in Europe its subterranean galleries 
from the central shaft of the mine which is Paris’. In 1847 the sound 
was loud and close. In 1848 the explosion burst. 



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ISTANBUL — •• •• 500.000 

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PARIS *• •• 1 . 000.000 

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WESTERffl CULTURE 1815 —1848: OPERA 

Places and languages of performance of thtiB r^pyjoj- operas: Rossini—'A Imavia o sia I'inutile prtcauziane'/Gazza LadraAuben'LaMuettedePoriici' 

Corfu—Perf or mances In French London — Performances also orS USEL __ p ftrtermonCff6 w 
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ond Germon. 






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.- ♦i-l' •HAMBURG ' N * _ 

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M 'i» n » •• - / Bucharest 

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» Florence . 

Lisbon#, ^ 5* 

AUSr 4. / A 

U X? 


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{***"**** Athens v 










(over 50,000) 















Russia, including 

Poland and Cracow 

49 . 53 ^ 







Austria, including 

Hungary and 

















Great Britain, including 









German confederation 
(excluding Austria, 





> >5 












3 . 53 ° 







> 3.093 







Turkey, including 


Kingdom of Naples 










Piedmont-Sard inia 








Rest of Italy 








Sweden and Norway 













































Europe Africa 



China Various 

of EUROPE 1850 



1 Saint-Just, Oeuvres computes, II, p.514. 

2 A. Hovclacque, La taille dans un 
canton ligure. Revue MensuclU de 
CEcole d’Anthropologic (Paris i8g6). 

3 L. Dal Pane, Storia del Lavoro dagli 
inizt del secolo XVIII al 1815 (1958), 
p. 135. R. S. Eckers, The North- 
South Differential in Italian Eco¬ 
nomic Development, Journal of 
Economic History, XXI, 1961, p. 290. 

4 Qufitelet, qu. by Manouvrier, Sur 
la taille des Parisiens, BulUtin de la 
Sociltl Anthropologique de Paris, 1888, 
p. 171. 

5 H- S&, Esquisse d’une Histoire du 
Rigime Agraire en Europe au XVIII et 
XIX silcles (1921), p. 184, J. Blum, 
Lord and Peasant in Russia (1961), pp. 

6 Th. Haebich, Deutsche Latifundien 
(1947). PP- 27 ff- 

7 A. Goodwin ed. The European Nobility 
in the Eighteenth Century (1953), p. 52. 

8 L. B. Namier, 1848, The Revolution of 
the Intellectuals (1944); J. Vicens 
Vives, Historia Economica de EspaXa 

9 Sten Carlsson, Stindssamhdlle och 
stindspersoner ryoo-1865 (1949). 

Io Pierre Lebrun et al., La rivoluzione 
industrial in Belgio, Studi Storici, II, 
3-4, 1961, pp. 564-5. 

It Like Turgot ( Oeuvres V, p. 244): 
‘Ceux qui connaissent la marche du 
commerce savent aussi que toute 
entreprise importante, de trafic ou 
d’Industrie, exige le concours de 
deux espices d’hommes, d’entre- 
preneurs . . . et des ouvriers qui 
travaillent pour le compte des 
premiers, moyennant un salaire con- 
venu. Telle est la veritable origine 
de la distinction entre les entrepre¬ 
neurs et les maitres, et les ouvriers 
ou compagnons, laquelle est fondi 
sur la nature des choses.’ 


1 Arthur Young, Tours in England and 
Wales, London School of Economics 
edition, p. 269. 

2 A. de Toqueville, Journeys to England 
and Ireland, ed. J. P. Mayer (1958), 
pp. 107-8. 

3 Anna Bezanson, The Early Uses of the 
Term Industrial Revolution, Quarterly 
Journal of Economics, XXXVI, 
1921-2, p. 343, G. N. Clark, The Idea 
of the Industrial Revolution (Glasgow 



4 cf. A. E. Musson & E. Robinson, 
Science and Industry in the late 
Eighteenth Century, Economic History 
Review, XIII. 2, Dec i960, and R. E. 
Schofield’s work on the Midland 
Industrialists and the Lunar Society 
Isis 47 (March 1956), 48 (1957)1 
Armais qf Science II (June 1956) etc. 

5 K.Berrill, International Trade and the 
Rate of Economic Growth, Economic 
History Review, XII, i960, p. 358. 

6 W. G. Hoffmann, The Growth of 
Industrial Economies (Manchester 
1958), p. 68. 

7 A. P. Wadsworth & J, de L. Mann, 
The Cotton Trade and Industrial Lanca¬ 
shire (1931), chapter VII. 

8 F. Crouzet, Le Blocus Continental et 
PEconomic Britamuque (1958), p. 63, 
suggests that in 1805 it was up to two- 

9 P, K. O’Brien, British Incomes and 
Property in the early Nineteenth 
Century, Economic History Review, 
XII, 2 (1959). P ; 267. 

10 Hoffinann, op. cit., p. 73. 

11 Baines, History qf the Cotton Manu¬ 
facture in Great Britain (London 1835). 
P- 43 i- 

12 P. Mathias, The Brewing Industry in 
England (Cambridge 1959). 

13 M. Mulhall, Dictionary of Statistics 
(1892), p. 158. 

14 Baines, op. cit., p. 112. 

15 cf. Phyllis Deane, Estimates of the 
British National Income, Economic 
History Review (April 1956 and April 
1957 )- 

16 O’Brien, op. cit., p. 267. 

17 For the stationary state cf. J. Schum¬ 
peter, History of Economic Analysis 
(1954), pp. 570-1. The crucial 
formulation is John Stuart Mill’s 
(principles of Political Economy, Book 
IV, chapter iv): ‘When a country has 
long possessed a large production, 

and a large net income to make sav¬ 
ing from, and when, therefore, the 
means have long existed of making a 
great annual addition to capital; it is 
one of the characteristics of such a 
country, that the rate of profit is 
habitually within, as it were, a 
hand’s breadth of the minimum, and 
the country therefore on the very 
verge of the stationary state . . . The 
mere continuance of the present 
annual increase in capital if no 
circumstances occurred to counter its 
effect would suffice in a small num¬ 
ber of years to reduce the net rate of 
profit (to the minimum).’ However, 
when this was published (1848) the 
counteracting force—the wave of 
development induced by the rail¬ 
ways—had already shown itself. 

18 By the radical John Wade, History of 
the Middle and Working Classes, the 
banker Lord Overstone, Reflections 
suggested by the perusal of Mr J. 
Horsley Palmer’s pamphlet on the causes 
and consequences of the pressure on the 
Money Market (1837), the Anti-Corn 
Law campaigner J. Wilson, Fluctua¬ 
tions of Currency, Commerce and Manu¬ 
facture; referable to the Com Laws (1840); 
and in France by A. Blanqui 
(brother of the famous revolutionary) 
in 1837 and M. Briaune in 1840. 
Doubtless also by others. 

19 Baines, op. cit., p. 441. A. Ure & P. 
L. Simmonds, The Cotton Manufacture 
qf GreatBritain (1861 edition),p. 390 ff. 

20 Geo. White, A Treatise on Weaving 
(Glasgow 1846), p. 272. 

21 M. Blaug, The Productivity of 
Capital in the Lancashire Cotton 
Industry during the Nineteenth Cen¬ 
tury, Economic History Review (April 

22 Thomas Ellison, The Cotton Trade of 
Great Britain (London 1886), p. 61. 



23 Baines, op. cit., p. 356. 

24 Baines, op. cit., p. 489. 

25 Ure & Simmonds, op. cit., Vol. I, 
p. 317 ff. 

26 J. H. Clapham, An Economic History 
of Modern Britain (1926), p. 427 ff.; 
Mulhall, op. cit. pp. 121,332, M. Rob¬ 
bins, The Railway Age (1962), p. 30-1. 

27 Rondo E. Cameron, France and the 
Economic Development of Europe 1800- 
1914 (1961), p. 77. 

28 Mulhall, op. cit. 501, 497. 

29 L. H. Jenks, The Migration of British 
Capital to 1875 (New York and 
London 1927), p. 126. 

30 D. Spring, The English Landed 
Estate in the Age of Coal and Iron, 
Journal of Economic History, (XI, I, 
■ 95 1 )- 

31 J. Clegg, A chronological history of 
Bolton (1876). 

32 Albert M. Imlah, British Balance of 

Payments and Export of Capital, 
1816-1913, Economic History Review V 

(1952. 2. P- 24)- 

33 John Francis, A History of the English 
Railway (1851) II, 136; see also H. 
Tuck, The Railway Shareholder’s Man¬ 
ual (7th edition 1846), Preface, and 
T. Tooke, History of Prices II, pp. 275, 
333-4 for the pressure of accumulated 
Lancashire surpluses into railways. 

34 Mulhall, op. cit., p. 14. 

35 Annals of Agric. XXXVI, p. 214. 

36 Wilbert Moore, Industrialisation and 
Labour (Cornell 1951). 

37 Blaug, loc. cit., p. 368. Children under 
13, however, declined sharply in the 

38 H. S6e, Histaire Economique de la 
France, Vol. II, p. 189 a 

39 Mulhall, op. cit.; Imlah, loc. cit., II, 
52, pp. 228-9. The precise date of 
this estimate is 1854. 


1 See R. R. Palmer, The Age of Demo¬ 
cratic Revolution (1959); J. Godechot, 
La Grande Nation (1956), Vol. I, 
Chapter 1. 

2 B. Lewis, The Impact of the French 
Revolution on Turkey, Journal of 
World History, I (1953-4, p. 105). 

3 H. S&, Esquisse d’une Histoire du 
Rigime Agraire (1931), pp. 16-17. 

4 A. Soboul, Les Campagnes Montpel- 
lidraines d la fin de I’Ancien Rigime 

5 A. Goodwin, The French Revolution 
(■959 «*•)> P- 7 °- 

6 C. Bloch, L’dmigration francaise au 
XIX siAcle, Etudes d’Histoire Modeme 
& Contemp. I (1947), p. 137; D. 
Greer, The Incidence of the Emigra¬ 
tion during the French Revolution (1951) 
however, suggests a very much 
smaller figure. 

7 D. Greer, The Incidence of the Terror 
(Harvard 1935). 

8 Oeuvres Computes de Saint-Just, Vol. II, 
p. 147 (ed. C. Vellay, Paris 1908). 


1 Cf. e.g. W. von Groote, Die Entste- 
hung d, Nationalbewussteins in Nord- 
westdeutschland 1790-1830 (1952). 

2 M. Lewis, A Social History of the 


Navy, 1793-1815 (i960), pp. 370, 373. 
3 Gordon Craig, The Politics of the 
Prussian Army 1640-1945 (1955), 

p. 26. 


4 A. Sorel, L’Europe et la revolution 
francaise, I (192a ed.), p. 66. 

5 Considerationssur la France, Chapter IV. 

6 Quoted in L. S. Stavrianos, Antece¬ 
dents to Balkan Revolutions, Journal 
of Modern History, XXIX, 1957, 
P- 344 - 

7 G. Bodart, Losses of Life in Modern 
Wars (1916), p. 133. 

8 J. Vicens Vives ed. Historia Social de 
Espartoy America (1956), IV, ii, p. 15. 

9 G. Bruun, Europe and the French 
Imperium (1938), p. 72. 

10 J. Leverrier, La Naissance de Varmte 
nationals, 1789-94 (1939), p. 139; 

G. Lefebvre, h'apolion (i936),pp. 198, 
527; M. Lewis, op. cit., p. 119; Par¬ 
liamentary Papers XVII, 1859, p. 15. 

11 Mulhall, Dictionary of Statistics: War. 

12 Cabinet Cyclopedia, I, pp. 55-6 (‘Manu¬ 
factures in Metal’). 

13 E. Tarl6, Le blocus continental et le 
royaume d’ltalie (1928), pp. 3-4, 
25-31; H. See, Histoire Economique de 
la France, II, p. 52; Mulhall, loc. cit. 

14 Gayer, Rostow and Schwartz, Growth 
and Fluctuation of the British Economy, 
1790-1850 ( 1953 ). PP- 646-9; F. 
Crouzet,Le blocus continental etl’economic 
Britannique (1958), p. 868 ff. 


1 Castlereagh, Correspondence, Third 4 R. Cameron, op. cit. p. 85. 

Series, XI, p. 105. 5 F. Ponteil, Lafayette et la Pologne 

2 Gentz, Deptches inidites, I, p. 371. (1934). 

3 J. Richardson, My Dearest Uncle, 

Leopold of the Belgians (1961), p. 165. 


1 Luding Boerne, Gesammelte Schriflen, 
III, PP- 130—t- 

2 Memoirs of Prince Mettemich, III, 
p. 468. 

3 Vienna, Verwaltungsarchiv: Polizei- 
hofitelle H 136 /1834, passim. 

4 Guizot, Of Democracy in Modern 
Societies (London 1838), p. 32. 

5 The most lucid discussion of this 
general revolutionary strategy is 
contained in Marx’ articles in the 
Neue Bheinische Zeitung during the 
1848 revolution. 

6 M. L. Hansen, The Atlantic Migration 
(1945), p. 147. 

7 F. C. Mather, The Government and 
the Chartists, in A. Briggs ed. 
Chartist Studies (1959). 

8 cf. Parliamentary Papers, XXXIV, of 
1834; answers to question 53 (causes 
and consequences of the agricultural 
riots and burning of 1830 and 1831), 
e.g. Lambourn, Speen (Berks), 
Steeple Claydon (Bucks), Bonington 
(Glos), Evenley (Northants). 

9 R. Dautry, 1848 et la Deuxiime 
Ripublique (1848), p. 80. 

10 St. Kiniewicz, La Pologne et 
l’ltalie h l’^poque du printemps des 
peuples. La Pologne au Xe Congris 
International Historique, 1955, p. 245. 

11 D. Cantimori in F. Fejto ed., The 
Opening of an Era: 1848 (1948), p. 119. 

12 D. Read, Press and People (1961), 
p. 216. 

13 Irene Collins, Government and Mews- 
paper Press in France, 1814-81 (1959). 



14 cf. E. J. Hobsbawm, Primitive Rebels 
( 1959 ). PP- ‘ 7 1-2 : V. Volguine, 
Les idees socialistes et communistes 
dans les societes secrites ( Questions 
d’Histoire, II, 1954, pp. 10-37); A. B. 
Spitzer, The Revolutionary Theories 
of Auguste Blanqui (1957), PP- 165-6. 

15 G. D. H. Cole and A. W. Filson, 
British Working Class Movements. 
Select Documents (1951), p. 402. 

16 J. Zubrzycki, Emigration from Po¬ 
land, Population Studies, VI, (1952-3), 
p. 248. 

17 Engels to Marx, March 9, 1847. 


1 Hoffmann v. Fallersleben, Der 
Deutsche Zollverein, in Unpolitische 

2 G. Weill, L’Enseignement Sicondaire en 
France 1802-1920 (1921), p. 72. 

3 E. de Laveleye, V Instruction du 
Peuple (1872), p. 278. 

4 F. Paulsen, Geschichte des Gelehrten 
Unterrichts (1897), II, p. 703; A. 
Daumard, Les dives de l’Ecole Poly¬ 
technique 1815-48 (Rev. d’Hist. Mod. 
et Contemp. V. 1958); The total num¬ 
ber of German and Belgian students 
in an average Semester of the early 
1840’s was about 14,000. J. Conrad, 
Die Frequenzvcrhaltnisse der Uni- 
versit&ten der hauptsachlichen Kul- 

turl&nder ( Jb.j. Mationalok. u. Statis¬ 
ts LVI, 1895, PP- 376 ff) 

5 L. Liard, L’Enseignement Supfrietcr en 
France 1789-1889 (1888), p. 11 ff. 

6 Paulsen, op. cit., II, pp. 690-1. 

7 Handworterbuch d. Staabwissenschaflen 
(2nd ed.) art. Buchhandel. 

8 Laveleye, op. cit., p. 264. 

9 W. Wachsmuth, Europaischc Sitten- 
geschichte, V, 2 (1839), pp. 807-8. 

10 J. Sigmann, Les radicaux badois et 
l’idie nation'ale allemande en 1848. 
Etudes d’Histoire Modems et Contempo- 
raine, II, 1948, pp. 213-4. 

11 J. Miskolczy, Ungarn und die Habs- 
burger-Monarchie (1959), p. 85. 


1 Haxthausen, Studien . . . ueber 
Russland (1847), II, p. 3. 

2 J. Billingsley, Survey of the Board of 
Agriculture for Somerset (1798), p. 52. 

3 The figures are based on the ‘New 
Domesday Book’ of 1871-3, but there 
is no reason to believe that they do 
not represent the situation in 1848. 

4 Handworterbuch d. Staatswissenschaften 
(Second Ed.), art. Grundbesitz. 

5 Th. von der Goltz, Gesch. d. Deutschen 
Landwirtschafl (1903), II; Sartorius 
v. Waltershausen, Deutsche Wirt- 
schaflsgeschichte 1815-1914 (1923), p. 

6 Quoted in L. A. White ed., The Indian 

Journals of Lewis, Henry Morgan 
(■ 959 ). P- > 5 - 

7 L. V. A. de Villeneuve Bargcmont, 
Economie Politique Chxltienne (1834), 
Vol. II, p. 3 ff. 

8 C. Issawi, Egypt since 1800. Journal 
of Economic History, XXI, 1, 1961, p. 5. 

9 B. J. Hovde, The Scandinavian Countries 
1710-1860 (1943), Vol. I, p. 279. For 
the increase in the average harvest 
from 6 million tons (1770) to 10 
millions, see Hwb. d. Staatswissen¬ 
schaften, art. Bauernbefreiung. 

10 A. Chabert, Essai sur les mouvements 
des prix et des revenus 1798-1820 
(1949) II, p. 27 ff; 1 . l’Huillier, 



Recherches sur l’Alsace Napollonienru 
(1945), p. 470. 

11 e.g. G. Desert in E. Labrousse ed. 
Aspects de la Crise . . . 1846-51 (1956), 
p. 58. 

ia J. Godechot, La Grande Nation (1956), 

II, p. 584. 

13 A. Agthe, Ursprung u. Lage d. Landar- 
beiter in Livland (1909), pp. 122-8. 

14 For Russia, Lyashchenko, op. cit., p. 
360; for comparison between Prussia 
and Bohemia, W. Stark, Niedergang 
und Ende d. Landwirtsch. Gross- 
betriebs in d. Boehm. Laendern {Jb. 
/. Nat. Oek. 146, 1937, p. 434 ff). 

15 F. Luetge, Auswirkungder Bauernbe- 
freiung, in Jb.f. Nat. Oek. 157, 1943, 
P- 353 ff- 

16 R. Zangheri, Prime Ricerche sulla dis- 
tribufionc della proprietyfondiaria (1957). 

17 E. Sereni, II Capitalismo tulle Cam- 
Pagne (1948), pp. 175-6. 

18 cf. G. Mori, La storia dell’industria 
italiana contemporanea (Annali dell’- 
Instituto Giangiacamo Feltrinelli, II, 
1 959 . P- 278-9) -, and the same author’s 
‘Osservazioni sul libero-scambismo 
dei moderati nel Risorgimento’ (Ri- 
vistaStoricadelSocialismo, III, 9, i960). 

19 Dal Pane, Storia del Laooro in Italia 
dagli inizi del secolo XVIII al 1815 
(■958), p. 119. 

20 R. Zangheri ed. Le Campagne emiliane 
neWepoca moderna (1957), p. 73. 

21 J. Vicens Vives, ed. Historia Social 
y Economica de Espaha y America 
(• 959 ). IVii, pp. 92, 95. 

22 M. Emerit,L’6tat intellectuel et moral 
de l’Algerie en 1830, Revue d’Histoire 
ModemeetContemporaine,!, 1954, p.207. 

23 R. Dutt, The Economic History of 
India under early British Rule (n.d. 
Fourth Ed.), p. 88. 

24 R. Dutt, India and the Victorian Age 
(1904), pp. 56-7. 

25 B. S. Cohn, The initial British 
impact on India (Journal of Asian 
Studies, 19, 1959-60, pp. 418-31) 
shows that in the Benares district 
(Uttar Pradesh) officials used their 
position to acquire land wholesale. 
Of 74 holders of large estates towards 
the end of the century, 23 owed the 
original title to the land to their con¬ 
nections with civil servants (p. 430). 

26 Sulekh Chandra Gupta, Land Market 
in the North Western Provinces 
(Utter Pradesh) in the first half of the 
nineteenth century (Indian Economic 
Review, IV, 2, August 1958). See also 
the same author’s equally illuminat¬ 
ing and pioneering Agrarian Back¬ 
ground of 1857 Rebellion in the 
North-western Provinces ( Enquiry , 
N. Delhi, Feb. 1959). 

27 R. P. Dutt, India Today (1940), 
pp. 129-30. 

28 K. H. Connell, Land and Population 
in Ireland, Economic History Review, 
II, 3 . ' 95 °. PP- 285, 288. 

29 S. H. Cousens, Regional .Death 
Rates in Ireland during the Great 
Famine. Population Studies, XIV, 1, 
i960, p. 65. 


1 Quoted in W. Armytage, A Social 
History of Engineering. (1961), p. 126. 

2 Quoted in R. Picard, Le Romantisme 
Social, (1944), pt. 2, cap. 6. 

3 J. Morley, Life of Richard Cobden 
(1903 ed ), p. 108. 

4 R. Baron Castro, La poblacion 
hispano-americana, Journal of World 
History, V, 1959-60, pp. 339-40. 

5 J. Blum, Transportation and In¬ 
dustry in Austria 1815-48, Journal of 
Modem History XV (1943), p- 27. 



6 Mulhall, op. cit., Post Office. 

7 Mulhall, ibid. 

8 P. A. Khromov, Ekonomicheskoe 
Ragvitie Rossii v XIX-XX Vekakh 
(1950), Table 19, p. 482-3. But the 
amount of sales increased much faster, 
cf. also J. Blum, Lord and Peasant in 
Russia, p. 287. 

9 R. E. Cameron, op. cit., p. 347. 

10 Quoted in S. Giedion, Mechanisation 
Takes Command (1948), p. 15a. 

11 R. E. Cameron, op. cit., p. 115 ff. 

12 R. E. Cameron, op. cit., p. 347; 
W. Hoffmann, The Growth of In¬ 
dustrial Economies (1958), p. 71. 

13 W. Hoffmann, op. cit., p. 48; 
Mulhall, op. cit., p. 377. 

14 J. Purs, The Industrial Revolution in 
the Czech Lands ( Historica, II (i960), 
pp. 199-200). 

15 R. E. Cameron, op. cit., p. 347; 
Mulhall, op. cit., p. 377. 

16 H. Kisch, The Textile Industries in 
Silesia and the Rhineland, Journal 
of Economic History, XIX, December 
1959 - 

17 O. Fischel and M. V. Boehn, Die 
Mode, 1818-1843 (Munich 1924), 
p. 136. 

18 R. E. Cameron, op. cit., pp. 79, 85. 

19 The locus classicus of this discussion 
is G. Lefebvre, La rivolution francaise 
et les paysans (1932), reprinted in 
Etudes sur la rivolution francaise (1954). 

20 G. Mori, Osservazioni sul libero- 
scambismo dei moderati nel Risorgi- 
mento, Riv. Storic. del Socialismo, III, 
i960, p. 8. 

21 C. Issawi, Egypt since 1800, Journal 
of Economic History. March 1961, 
XXI, p. 1. 


1 F. Engels, Condition of the Working 
Class in England, Chapter XII. 

2 M. Capefigue, Histoires des Grandes 
Operations Financieres, IV (i860), p. 
2 55 - 

3 M. Capefigue, loc. cit.,pp.254,248-9. 

4 A. Beauvilliers, L’Art du Cuisinier, 
(Paris 1814). 

5 H. S6e, Histoire Economique de la 
France, II, p. 216. 

6 A. Briggs, Middle Class Conscious¬ 
ness in English Politics 1780-1846, 
Past and Present, 9, April 1956, p. 68. 

7 Donald Read, Press and People 1790- 
1850 (1961), p. 26. 

8 S. Smiles, Life of George Stephenson 
(1881 ed.), p. 183. 

9 Charles Dickens, Hard Times. 

10 Leon Faucher, Etudes sur I’Angle- 
terre, I (1842), p. 322. 

11 M. J. Lambert-Dansette, Qjiclques 
families du patronat textile de Lille- 
Armentihres (Lille 1954), p. 659. 

12 Oppermann, Geschichie d. KSnigreichs 
Hannover, quoted in T. Klein, 1848, 
Der Vorkampf (1914), p. 71. 

13 G. Schilfert, Sieg u. Pfiederlage d. 
demokratischen Wahlrcchts in d. deutschen 
Revolution 1848-9 (1952), pp. 404—5. 

14 Mulhall, op. cit. p. 259. 

15 W. R. Sharp, The French Civil Service 
(New York 1931), pp. 15-16. 

16 The Census of Great Britain in 1851 
(London, Longman, Brown, Green 
and Longmans 1854), p. 57. 

17 R. Portal, La naissance d’une bour¬ 
geoisie industrielle en Russie dans 
la premifere moitte du XIX siicle. 
Bulletin de la SociM d’Histoire Modems, 
Douzifcme s^rie, II, 1959. 

18 Vienna, Verwaltungsarchiv, Polizeihof- 
stelle, H 136/1834. 

19 A. Girault et L. Milliot, Principes 
de Colonisation et de legislation Colonials 
(1938), p. 359. 

32 7 


20 Louis Chevalier, Classes Laboriettses el 
Classes Dangereuses (Paris 1958) III, 
pt. 2 discusses the use of the term 
‘barbarians’, both by those hostile 
and by those friendly to the labouring 
poor in the 1840s. 

21 D. Simon, Master and Servant in J. 
Saville ed., Democracy and the Labour 
Movement (1954). 

22 P. Jaccard, Histoire Sociale du Travail 
(i960), p. 248. 

23 P. Jaccard, op. cit., p. 249. 


1 The weaver Hauffe, born 1807, 
quoted in Alexander Schneer, Ueber 
die Noth der Leinen-Arbeiter in Schle- 
lesien . . . (Berlin 1844), p. 16. 

2 The theologian P. D. Michele 
Augusti, Della libertd ed eguaglianza 
degli uomini nell’ordine naturals e civile 
(1790), quoted in A. Cherubini, 
Dottrine e Metodi Assistengiali dal 
iy8g at 1848 (Milan 1958), p. 17. 

3 E. J. Hobsbawm, The Machine 
Breakers, Past and Present, I, 1952. 

4 ‘About some Lancashire Lads’ in 
The Leisure Hour (1881). I owe this 
reference to Mr A. Jenkin. 

5 ‘die Schnapspest im ersten Drittel 
des Jahrhunderts’, Handwoerterbuch 
dStaatswissenschaften (Seconded.) art. 

6 L. Chevalier, Classes Laborieuses et 
Classes Dangereuses, passim. 

7 J. B. Russell, Public Health Administra¬ 
tion in Glasgow (1903), p. 3. 

8 Chevalier op. cit. pp. 233-4. 

9 E. Neuss, Entstehung u. Entwicklung d. 
Klasse d. besitglosen Lohnarbeiter in 
Halle (Berlin 1958), p. 283. 

to J. Kuczynski, Geschichte der Lags der 
Arbeiter (Berlin i960), Vol. 9, p. 

264 ff; Vol. 8 (i960), p. 109 ff. 

11 R. J. Rath, The Habsburgs and the 
Great Depression in Lombardo- 
Venetia 1814-18. Journal of Modern 
History, XIII, p. 311. 

12 M. C. Muehlemann, Les prix des 
vivres et le mouvement de la popula¬ 
tion dans le canton de Berne 1782- 


1881. IV Congrls International d’Hy- 
giine (1883). 

13 F. J. Neumann, Zur Lehre von d 
Lohngesetzen, Jb.fMat. Oek. 3d ser. 

IV 1892, p. 374 ff. 

14 R. Scheer, Entwicklung d Annaberger 
Posamentierindustrie im ig. Jahrhundert. 
(Leipzig 1909), pp. 27-8, 33. 

15 N. McCord, The Antt-Com Law 
League (1958), P- 12 7 - 

16 ‘Par contre, il est sdr que la situation 
alimentaire, & Paris, s’est deterior6e 
peu It peu avec le XIX siicle, sans 
doute jusqu’au voisinage des annies 
50 ou 60.’ R. Philippe in Annales 16, 
3, 1961, 567, For analogous calcula¬ 
tions for London, cf. E. J. Hobs¬ 
bawm, The British Standard of 
Living, Economic History Review, X, 
1, 1957. The total per capita meat 
consumption of France appears to 
have remained virtually unchanged 
from 1812 to 1840 ( Congrls Interna¬ 
tionale d’Hygilne Paris 1878 (1880), 
vol. I,p. 432). 

17 S. Pollard, A History of Labour in 
Sheffield (i960), pp. 62-3. 

18 H. Ashworth in Journal Stat. Soc. 

V (1842), p. 74; E. Labrousse, ed. 
Aspects de la Crise . . . 1846-51 (1956), 
p. 107. 

19 Statistical Committee appointed by the 
Anti-Corn Law Conference . . . March 
184s (n.d.), p. 45. 

19a R. K. Webb in English Historical 
Review, LXV (1950), p. 333 ff. 


20 Quoted in A. E. Musson, The Ideo¬ 
logy of Early Co-operation in Lan¬ 
cashire and Cheshire; Transactions of 
the Lancashire and Cheshire Antiquarian 
Society, LXVIII, 1958, p. 120. 

21 A. Williams, Folksongs of the Upper 
Thames (1923), p. 105 prints a 
similar version rather more class 

22 A. Briggs, The Language of ‘class’ in 
early nineteenth century England, 
in A. Briggs and J. Saville ed., 
Essays in Labour History (i960); 
E. Labrousse, Le mouvement ouvrier 
et les Idles sociales, III (Cours de la 
Sorbonne), pp. 168-9; E. Coornaert, 
La pens6e ouvrtere et la conscience 
de classe en France 1830-48, in 
Studi in Onore di Gino Luzzato, III 
(Milan 1950), p. 28; G. D. H. Cole, 
Attempts at General Union (1953), p. 161. 

23 A. Soboul, Les Sansculottes de Paris en 
Pan II (1958), p. 660. 

24 S. Pollard, op. cit. pp. 48-9. 

25 Th. Mundt, Der dritte Stand in 
Deutschland und Preussen . . . (Berlin 
1847), p. 4, quoted byj. Kuczynski, 
Gesch.d.Lage d. Arbeiter 9, p. 169. 

26 Karl Biedermann, Vorlesungen ueber 
Socialismus und sociale Fragen (Leipzig 
1847), quoted Kuczynski, op. cit., 
p. 71. 

27 M. Tylecote, The Mechanics’ Institutes 
of Lancashire before 1851 (Manchester 

■ 957 ). VIII. 

28 Quoted in Revue Historique CCXXI 
(1959), p. 1 38. 

29 P. Gosden, The Friendly Societies in 
England 1815-75 (1961), PP- 2 3 4 5 3 > 3 1 - 

30 W. E. Adams, Memoirs of a Social 
Atom, I, pp. 163-5, (London 1903). 


1 Civilti Cattolica II, 122, quoted in 
L. Dal Pane, il socialismo e le 
questione sociale nella prima annata 
della Civilti Cattolica (Studi Onore 
di Gino Luzzato, Milan, 1950, 
p. 144. 

2 Haxthausen, Studien ueber . . . Russ- 
land (1847), I, p. 388. 

3 cf. Antonio Machado’s portrait of the 
Andalusian gentleman in Poesias 
Completas (Austral ed.), pp. 152-4: 
‘Gran pagano, 

Se hizo hermano 

De una santa cofradia’ etc. 

4 G. Duveau, Les Instituteurs (1957), 
pp. 3-4. 

4a J. S. Trimingham, Islam in West Africa 
(Oxford 1959), p. 30. 

5 A. Ramos, Las Culturas negras en el 
mundo nuevo (Mexico 1943), p. 277 ff. 

6 W. F. Wertheim, Indonesian Society in 
Transition (1956), p. 204. 

7 Census of Great Britain 1851: Religious 
Worship in England and Wales (London 


8 Mulhall, Dictionary of Statistics: 

9 Mary Merryweather, Experience of 
Factory Life (Third ed. London 1862), 
p. 18. The reference is to the 1840s. 

10 T. Rees, History of Protestant Non¬ 
conformity in Wales (1861). 

11 Marx-Engels, Werke (Berlin 1956), 
I, p. 378. 

12 Briefwechsel zwischen Fr. Gentz und 
Adam Muller, Gentz to Muller, 
7 October, 1819. 

13 Gentz to Muller, 19 April, 1819. 




1 Archives Parlemenlaires 1787-1860 t. 
VIII, p. 429. This was the first draft 
of paragraph 4 of the Declaration of 
Man and Citizen. 

2 Declaration of the Rights of Man and 
Citizen 1798, paragraph 4. 

3 E. Roll, A History of Economic Thought 
(1948 ed.), p. 135. 

4 Oeuvres de Condor cel (1804 ed.) 

XVIII p. 412; (Ce que les citoyens 
ont le droit d’attendre de leur reprisen- 
tants.) R. R. Palmer, The Age of 
Democratic Revolution, I, (1959), pp. 13- 
20, argues—unconvincingly—that 

liberalism was more clearly ‘demo¬ 
cratic’ than is here suggested. 

5 cf. C. B. Macpherson, Edmund 
Burke (Transactions of the Royal Society 
of Canada, LIII, Sect. II, 1959, pp. 

6 Qpoted in J. L. Talmon, Political 
Messianism (i960), p. 323. 

7 Rapport sur le mode d’execution du 
d6cr6t du 8 vent6se, an II (Oeuvres 
Computes, II, 1908, p. 248). 

8 The Book of the New Moral World, pt. 
IV, p. 54. 

g R. Owen, A New View of Society; or 
Essays on the Principle of the Formation 
of the Human Character. 

10 Quoted in Talmon, op. cit., p. 127. 

11 K. Marx, Preface to the Critique of 
Political Economy. 

12 Letter to the Chevalier de Rivarol, June 1, 
> 79 t- 

13 For his ‘declaration of political 
faith’ see Eckermann, Gespraeche mil 
Goethe, 4.1.1824. 

14 G. Lukacs, Der junge Hegel, p. 409 for 
Kant, passim —esp. II, 5 for Hegel. 

15 Lukacs, op. cit., pp. 411-12. 


1 S. Laing, Notes of a Traveller on the 
Social and Political State of France, 
Prussia, Switzerland, Italy and other 
parts of Europe, 1842 (1854 ed.), 
P- 275 - 

2 Oeuvres Computes, XIV, p. 17. 

3 H. E. Hugo, The Portable Romantic 
Reader (1957), p. 58. 

4 Fragmente Vermischten Inhalts. 
(Novalis, Schriften (Jena 1923), III, 
pp. 45-6. 

5 From The Philosophy of Fine Art 
(London 1920), V.I., p. 106 f. 

6 E. C. Batho, The Later Wordsworth 
(‘ 933 ). P- 227, see also pp. 46-7, 
• 97 - 9 - 

7 Mario Praz, The Romantic Agony 
(Oxford 1933). 

8 L. Chevalier, Classes Laborieuses et 
Classes Dangereuses it Paris dans la 
premibe moitid du XIX siech. (Paris 

9 Ricarda Huch, Die Romantik, I, p. 70. 

10 P. Jourda, L’exotisme dans la littbature 
franfaise depuis Chateaubriand (1939), 
P- 79 - 

11 V. Hugo, Oeuvres Computes, XV, p. 2. 

12 Oeuvres Computes, IX (Paris 1879), 
p. 212. 

13 cf. M. Thibert, Le rSle social de Part 
d’aprls Us Saint-Simoniens (Paris n.d.). 

14 P. Jourda, op. cit., pp. 55-6. 

15 M. Capefigue, Histoire des Grandes 
Opbations Financibes, IV, pp. 252-3. 

16 James Nasmyth, Engineer, An Autobio¬ 
graphy, ed. Samuel Smiles (1897 end.), 

p. 177- 



17 Ibid. pp. 243, 246, 251. 

18 E. Hal6vy, History of the English 
People in the Nineteenth Century (paper¬ 
back ed.), I, p. 509. 

19 D. S. Landes, Vieille Banque et 
Banque Nouvelle, Revue d’Histoire 
Modeme et Contemporaine, III, (1956), 
p. 205. 

20 cf. the long-playing records ‘Shuttle 
and Cage’ Industrial Folk Ballads, 
(10T 13), Row, Bullies, Row (T7) and 
The Blackball Line, (T8) all on Topic, 

21 Quoted in G. Taylor, Nineteenth 
Century Florists and their Flowers 
(The Listener 23.6.1949). The Paisley 


1 Quoted in S. Solomon, Commune, 
August 1939, p. 964. 

2 G. C. C. Gillispie, Genesis and Geology 
(1951), p. 116. 

3 Quoted in Encyclopedic de la 
Pieiadc, Histoire de la Science (1957), 
p. 1465. 

4 Essai sur I’/ducation intellectuelle avec 

weavers were par ticularly enthusiastic 
and rigorous ‘florists’, recognising 
only eight flowers worthy of compe¬ 
titive breeding. The Nottingham 
lace-makers grew roses, which were 
not yet—unlike the hollyhock—a 
workingman’s flower. 

22 Select Committee on Drunkenness (Pari. 
Papers VIII, 1834) Q571. In 1852, 
28 pubs and 21 beershops in Man¬ 
chester (out of 481 pubs and 1,298 
beershops for a population of 303,000 
in the borough) provided musical 
entertainment. (John T. Baylee; 
Statistics and Facts in reference to the 
Lord’s Day (London 1852), p. 20.) 


le projet d’une Science nouvelle (Lausanne 

5 cf. Guerlac, Science and National 
Strength, in E. M. Earle ed. Modem 
France (1951). 

6 Quoted in S. Mason, A History of the 
Sciences (1953), p. 286. 


1 Haxthausen, Studien ueber . . . Russ- 
land (1847), I, pp. 156-7. 

2 Hansard, 16 Feb. 1842, quoted in 
Robinson and Gallagher, Africa and 
the Victorians (1961), p. 2. 

3 R. B. Morris, Encyclopedia of American 
History (1953), pp. 515, 516. 

4 P. Lyashchenko, History of the Russian 
National Economy, pp. 273-4. 

5 Lyashchenko, op. cit., p. 370. 

6 J. Stamp, British Incomes and Property 
(1920), pp. 515, 431. 

7 M. L. Hansen, The Atlantic Migration 
1607-1860, (Harvard 1945), p. 252. 

8 N. McCord, The Anti-Com Law League 
1838-46 (London 1958), chapter V. 

g T. Kolokotrones, quoted in L. S. 
Stavrianos, Antecedents to Balkan 
Revolutions, Journal of Modem History, 
XXIX, 1957, p. 344. 



Both the subject and the literature are so vast that even a highly 
select bibliography would run into many pages. To refer to all subjects 
which might interest the reader is impossible. Guides to further reading 
on most subjects have been compiled by the American Historical 
Association ( A Guide to Historical Literature, periodically revised) and 
for the use of students by some Oxford teachers; A select list of works on 
Europe and Europe overseas 1715-1815, edited by J. S. Bromley and A. 
Goodwin (Oxford 1956) and A select list of books on European history 
1815-1514, edited by Alan Bullock and A. J. P. Taylor (1957). The 
former is better. Books marked * below also contain bibliographies 
which are recommended. 

There are several series of general histories covering the period or 
part of it. The most important is Peuples et Civilisations, because it 
includes two volumes by George Lefebvre which are historical master¬ 
pieces: * La Revolution Frangaise (vol. 1, 1789-93 is available in English, 
1962) and *NapoUon (1953). F. Ponteil*, L’eveil des nationalitis 1815-48 
(i960) replaces an earlier volume under the same title by G. Weill, 
which is still worth consulting. The equivalent American series The 
Rise of Modern Europe is more discursive and geographically limited. 
The available volumes are Crane Brinton’s *A decade of revolution 
1 789~99 (1934)1 G. Bruun, * Europe and the French Imperium (1938) and 
F. B. Artz, * Reaction and Revolution 1814-32 (1934). Bibliographically 
the most useful of the series is Clio, which is aimed at students and 
periodically brought up-to-date; note especially the sections sum¬ 
marizing current historical debate. The relevant volumes are: E. 
Pr^clin and V. L. Tapi< 5 , *Le xviiie sikle (2 vols.); L. Villat, La revolution 
et VEmpire (2 vols.), J. Droz, L. Genet and J. Vidalenc, *L’epoque 
contemporaine, vol. I, 1815-71. 

Though old, J. Kulischer, Allgemeine Wirtschaftsgeschichte, vol. II, 
Neuzeit (republished 1954) is still a good factual summary of economic 
history, but there are also numerous American college textbooks of 
approximately equal value, e.g. W. Bowden, M. Karpovitch and A. P. 



Usher, Economic history of Europe since 1750 (1937). J. Schumpeter, 
Business Cycles I (1939) is broader than its title suggests. Of general 
interpretations, as distinct from histories, M. H. Dobb, Studies in the 
development of capitalism (1946) and K. Polanyi, The great transformation 
(published as Origins of our Time in England, 1945), as well as Werner 
Sombart’s older Der moderne Kapitalismus III: Das Wirtschaftsleben im 
Zeitalter des Hochkapitalismus (1928) are recommended. For population, 
M. Reinhard, Histoire de la population mondiale de 1700 a 1548 (1949), but 
especially the brief and quite excellent introductory C. Cipolla’s The 
economic history of world population (1962). For technology, Singer, 
Holmyard, Hall and Williams’ A history of technology, IV: the Industrial 
Revolution 1750-1850 (1958) is myopic but useful for reference. W. H. 
Armytage, A social history of engineering (1961) is a better introduction 
and W. T. O’Dea, The social history of lighting (1958) is both enter¬ 
taining and suggestive. See also the books on the history of science. 
For agriculture the obsolescent but convenient H. S6e, *Esquisse d’une 
histoire du regime agraire en Europe au i8e et ige siecles (1921) has not yet 
been replaced by anything as handy. There is as yet no good synthesis 
of the modem research work on farming. For money, Marc Bloch’s 
very brief Esquisse d’une histoire monitaire de 1 'Europe (1954) is useful as is 
K. Mackenzie, The banking systems of Great Britain, France, Germany and 
the USA (1945). For want of a general synthesis R. E. Cameron, 
France and the economic development of Europe 1800-1514 (1961), one of 
the most solid pieces of research to have appeared in recent years, can 
serve as an introduction to problems of credit and investment, together 
with the still unsurpassed L. H. Jenks, The migration of British capital to 
1875 (1927). 

There is no good general treatment of the industrial revolution, in 
spite of much recent work on economic growth, not often of great 
interest to the historian. The best comparative conspectus is in the 
special number of Studi Storici II, 3-4 (Rome 1961) and the more 
specialised First international conference of economic history, Stockholm 1560 
(Paris-Hague 1961). P. Mantoux, The industrial revolution of the 18th 
century (1906), in spite of its age, remains basic for Britain. There is 
nothing as good for the period since 1800. W. O. Henderson, * Britain 
and industrial Europe 1750-1870 (1954) describes British influence and 
J. Purs, *The industrial revolution in the Czech lands (Historica II, 
Prague i960) contains a convenient bibliography for seven countries; 
W. O. Henderson, *The industrial revolution on the continent: Germany, 
France, Russia 1800-1514 (1961) is aimed at the undergraduate. Among 
more general discussions Karl Marx, Capital I remains a marvellous, 
almost contemporary, treatment and S. Giedion, Mechanisation takes 



command (1948) is among other things a profusely illustrated and 
highly suggestive pioneer work on mass production. 

A. Goodwin ed., The European nobility in the 18th century (1953) is a 
comparative study of aristocracies. There is nothing similar on the 
bourgeoisie. Luckily the best source of all, the works of the great 
novelists, notably Balzac, are easily accessible. For the working classes 
J. Kuczynski, Geschichte der Lage der Arbeiter unter dem Kapitalismus 
(Berlin, to be completed in 38 volumes) is encyclopedic. The best 
contemporary analysis remains F. Engels, Condition of the Working Class in 
England in 1844. For the urban sub-proletariat, L. Chevalier, Classes labor- 
ieuses et classes dangereuses d Paris dans lepremilre moitii du ige sikle (1958) is a 
brilliant synthesis of economic and literary evidence. E. Sereni, II 
capitalismo nelle campagne (1946), though confined to Italy and a later 
period, is the most useful introduction to the study of the peasantry. 
The same author’s Storia del paesaggio agrario italiano (1961) analyses the 
changes in landscape made by man’s productive activities, drawing 
most imaginatively on the arts. R. N. Salaman, The history and social 
influence of the potato (1949) is admirable on the historical importance of 
one type of foodstuff, but in spite of recent research the history of 
material life remains little known, though J. Drummond and A. 
Wilbraham, The Englishman's food (1939) is a pioneer work. J. Chalmin, 
L’ojflcier francais 1815-1871 (1957), Georges Duveau, L’instituteur (1957) 
and Asher Tropp, The school teachers (1957) are among the rare his¬ 
tories of professions. The novelists still provide by far the best guide to 
the social changes of capitalism; e.g. John Galt, Annals of the Parish for 

The most stimulating history of science is J. D. Bernal, *Science in 
history (1954) and S. F. Mason, *A history of the sciences (1953) is good on 
natural philosophy. For reference M. Daumas ed., *Histoire de la science 
(Encyclopedic de la Pleiade 1957). J. D. Bernal, Science and industry in 
the igth century (1953) analyses some examples of their interaction, R. 
Taton, The French Revolution and the progress of science (in S. 
Lilley ed., Essays in the social history of science Copenhagen 1953) may be 
the least inaccessible of several monographs. C. C. Gillispie, Genesis 
and geology (1951) is entertaining and illustrates the difficulties between 
science and religion. On education G. Duveau, op, cit. and Brian 
Simon, Studies in the history of education 1780-1870 (i960) will help to 
compensate for the absence of a good modern comparative study. On 
the press there is G. Weill, Le journal (1934). 

There are numerous histories of economic thought, for the subject is 
much taught. E. Roll, A history of economic thought (various editions) 
is a good introduction. J. B. Bury, The idea of progress (1920) is still 



useful. E. Halevy, The growth of philosophic radicalism (1938) is an ancient 
but unshaken monument. L. Marcuse, Reason and revolution: Hegel and 
the rise of social theory (1941) is excellent and G. D. H. Cole, A history of 
socialist thought I, 1780-1850, a judicious survey. Frank Manuel, The 
new world of Henri Saint-Simon (1956) is the most recent study of that 
elusive but important figure. Auguste Cornu’s Karl Marx und Friedrich 
Engels, Leben u. Werk I, 1818-44 (Berlin 1954, in progress), appears 
definitive. Hans Kohn, The idea of nationalism (1944) is useful. 

There is no general account of religion, but K. S. Latourette, 
Christianity in a revolutionary age, I-III (1959-61) surveys the entire 
world. W. Cantwell Smith, Islam in modem history (1957) and H. R. 
Niebuhr, The social sources of denominationalism (1929) may introduce the 
two expanding religions of the period, V. Lanternari, *Mooimenti 
religiosi di libertd e di salvezza (i960), what has been called the ‘colonial 
heresies’. S. Dubnow, Weltgeschichte des juedischen Volkes, VIII and IX 
(1929) deals with the Jews. 

The best introductions to the history of the arts are probably 
N. L. B. Pevsner, Outline of European architecture (illustrated edition 1960), 
E. H. Gombrich, The story of art (1950) and P. H. Lang, Music in 
western civilisation (1942). There is unfortunately no equivalent for world 
literature, though Arnold Hauser, The social history of art, II (1951) 
covers this field also. F. Novotny, * Painting and sculpture in Europe 1780- 
1870 (i960) and H. R. Hitchcock, * Architecture in the igth and 20th 
centuries (1958), both in the Penguin History of Art, contain both 
illustrations and bibliographies. Among more specialised works mainly 
on the visual arts one might mention F. D. Klingender, *Art and the 
industrial revolution (1947) and Goya and the democratic tradition (1948), 
K. Clark, The gothic revival (1944), P. Francastel, Le style Empire (1944), 
and F. Antal’s brilliant but capricious ‘Reflections on Classicism and 
Romanticism’ ( Burlington Magazine 1935, 1936, 1940, 1941). For music, 
A. Einstein, Music in the romantic era (1947) and Schubert (1951) may be 
read; for literature, G. Lukacs’ profound Goethe und seine /fit (1955), The 
historical novel (1962) and the chapters on Balzac and Stendhal in 
Studies in European realism (1950); also the excellent J. Bronowski, 
William Blake—a man without a mask (1954 ed.). For a few general 
themes, consult R. Wellek, A history of modern criticism 1750-1050, 1 (1955), 
R. Gonnard, *Le Ugende du bon sauvage (1946), H. T. Parker, The cult of 
antiquity and the French revolutionaries (1937), P. Trahard, La sensibility 
rivolutionnaire 1751-4 (1936), P. Jourda, L’exotisme dans le litterature 
franfaise (1938), and F. Picard Le romantisme social (1944). 

Only a few topics can be singled out from the history of events in 
this period. On revolutions and revolutionary movements the bibli- 



ography is gigantic for 1789, rather less so for 1815-48. G. Lefebvre’s 
two works mentioned above and his The coming of the French Revolution 
(1949) are standard for the 1789 revolution; A. Soboul, Precis d’histoire 
de la Revolution Frangais (1962) is a lucid textbook and A. Goodwin, * The 
French Revolution (1956) an English conspectus. The literature is too 
vast for summary. Bromley and Goodwin provide a good guide. To 
the works mentioned there A. Soboul, Les sansculottes en Van II (i960), 
an encyclopedic work, G. Rude, The crowd in the French Revolution (1959) 
and J. Godechot, La contre-revolution (1961) ought to be added. C. L. R. 
James, The black Jacobins (1938) describes the Haitian revolution. For 
the insurrectionaries of 1815-48, C. Francovich, Idee sociali e organizza- 
zione operaia nella prima meld dell' 800 (1959) is a good and brief study 
of a significant country, which can serve as introduction. E. Eisenstein, 
* Filippo Michele Buonarroti (1959) leads us into the world of the secret 
societies. A. Mazour, The first Russian revolution (1937) deals with the 
Decembrists, R. F. Leslie, Polish politics and the revolution of November 
1830 (1956) is in effect a much broader book than its title suggests. 
On labour movements there is no general study, for E. Dolleans, 
Histoire du mouvement ouvrier I (1936) deals only with Britain and France. 
See also A. B. Spitzer, The revolutionary theories of Auguste Blanqui (1957), 

D. O. Evans, Le socialisme romantique (1948), and O. Festy, Le mouvement 
ouvrier au debut de la monarchic de Juillet (1908). 

On the origins of 1848, F. Fejto ed., The opening of an era, 1848 (1948) 
contains essays, mostly excellent, on numerous countries; J. Droz, Les 
revolutions allemandes de 1848 (1957) is invaluable and E. Labrousse ed., 
Aspects de la crise... 1846-31 (1956) is a collection of detailed economic 
studies for France. A. Briggs ed., Chartist studies (1959) is the most 
up-to-date work on its subject. E. Labrousse, ‘Comment naissent les 
revolutions? (Actes du centenaire de 1848, Paris 1948) attempts a general 
answer to this question for our period. 

On international affairs A. Sorel, L’Europe et la Revolution Francaise I 
(1895) still provides a good background and J. Godechot, La Grande 
Nation, 2 vols. (1956) describes the expansion of the revolution abroad. 
Vols. IV and V of the * Histoire des Relations Internationales (by A. Fugier 
up to 1815 and P. Renouvin 1815-71, both 1954) are lucid and 
intelligent guides. On the process of war, B. H. Liddell Hart, The 
ghost of Napoleon (1933) remains a fine introduction to land strategy 
and E. Tarle, Napoleon’s invasion of Russia in 1812 (1942) a convenient 
study of a particular campaign. G. Lefebvre, *NapoUon contains by far 
the best concise sketch of the nature of the French armies, and M. 
Lewis, A social history of the navy 1789-1815 (i960) is most instructive. 

E. F. Heckscher, The Continental System (1922) should be supplemented 



by F. Crouzet’s massive Le blocus continental et l’economic britannique (1958) 
for the economic aspects. F. Redlich, De praeda militari: looting and booty 
1500-1815 (1955) casts interesting sidelights. J. N. L. Baker, *A history 
of geographical exploration and discovery (1937) and the admirable Russian 
Atlas geograficheskikh otkrytii i issledovanii (1959) provide the background 
for the European world conquest; K. Panikkar, Asia and Western 
dominance (1954) an instructive account of it from an Asian point of 
view. G. Scelle, Le traite negrihe aux Indes de Castille, 2 vols. (1906) and 
Gaston Martin, Histoire de I’Esclavage dans les colonies franfaises (1948) 
remain basic for the slave-trade. E. O. v. Lippmann, Geschichte des 
puckers (1929) may be supplemented with N. Deerr, The History of 
sugar, 2 vols. (1949). Eric Williams, Capitalism and slavery (1944) is 
a general interpretation, though sometimes schematic. For the charac¬ 
teristic ‘informal’ colonisation of the world by trade and gunboat, 
M. Greenberg, British trade and the opening of China (1949) and H. S. 
Ferns, Britain and Argentina in the 19th century (i960) are case-studies. 
For the two large areas under direct European exploitation, W. F. 
Wertheim, Indonesian society in transition (Hague-Bandung 1959) is a 
brilliant introduction (see also J. S. Furnivall, Colonial policy and practice, 
1956 which compares Indonesia and Burma), and out of a large but 
mainly disappointing literature on India the following may be selected: 
E. Thompson and G. T. Garratt, Rise and fulfilment of British rule in 
India (1934), Eric Stokes, The English utilitarians and India (1959) — 
a most illuminating work—and A. R. Desai, The social background of 
Indian nationalism (Bombay 1948). There is no adequate account of 
Egypt under Mehemet Ali, but H. Dodwell, The Founder of Modern 
Egypt (1931) may be consulted. 

It is Impossible to do more than point to one or two histories of some 
countries or regions. For Britain, E. Hal6vy, History of the English people 
in the 19th century remains fundamental, especially the great survey of 
England in 1815 in vol. 1; to be supplemented by A. Briggs, The 
age of improvement 1780-1867 (1959). For France a classic of social history 
gives the eighteenth century background, P. Sagnac, La formation de la 
sociiti francaise moderne, II (1946), and Gordon Wright, France in modern 
times (1962) a good introductory history-since then. F. Ponteil, La 
monarchic parlementaire 1815-48 (1949) and F. Artz, France under the 
Bourbon restoration (1931) are recommended. For Russia M. Florinsky, 
Russia, II (1953) covers the period since 1800 fully and M. N. 
Pokrovsky, Brief history of Russia, I (1933) and P. Lyashchenko, History 
of the Russian national economy (1947) include it. R. Pascal, The growth 
of modern Germany (1946) is brief and good, K. S. Pinson, Modern 
Germany (1954) is also introductory. T. S. Hamerow, Restoration, revo- 



lution, reaction: economics and politics in Germany 1815-71 (1958), J. Droz, 
op. cit. and Gordon Craig, The politics of the Prussian army (1955) can be 
read with profit. On Italy G. Candeloro, Storia dell’ Italia modema II, 
1815-46 (1958) is by far die best, on Spain P. Vilar, Histoire d’Espagne 
(1949) is a superb brief guide and J. Vicens Vives ed., Historia social de 
Espahay America Latina, IV/2 (1959) is, among its other merits, beauti¬ 
fully illustrated. A. J. P. Taylor, The Habsburg monarchy 1949) is a good 
introduction. See also E. Wangermann, From Joseph II to the Jacobin 
Trials (1959). On the Balkans, L. S. Stavrianos, The Balkans since 1453 
(1953) and the excellent B. Lewis, The emergence of modern Turkey (1961), 
on the North, B. J. Hovde, The Scandinavian countries 1720-1865, 2 vols. 
(1943), will be found helpful. On Ireland, E. Strauss, Irish nationalism 
and British democracy (1951) and The great famine, studies in recent Irish 
history (1957). On the Low Countries, H. Pirenne, Histoire de Belgique, 
v-vi (1926, 1932), R. Demoulin, La revolution de 1830 (1950) andH. R. C. 
Wright, Free Trade and Protection in the Netherlands 1816-30 (1955). 

A few final notes on general works of reference. W. Langer’s Encyclo¬ 
pedia of World History (1948) or Ploetz’ Hauptdaten der Weltgeschichte 
(1957) give the main dates, the admirable Alfred Mayer, Annals of 
European civilisation 1 501-1 goo (1949) deals specially with culture, science 
and the like. M. Mulhall, Dictionary of Statistics (1892) remains the best 
compendium of figures. Among historical encyclopedias the new 
Sooietskaya Istoricheskaya Entsiklopediya in 12 volumes covers the world; the 
Encyclopedic de la Pleiade has special volumes on Universal History (3), 
the History of Literatures (2) Historical Research—very valuable— 
and the History of Science; but these are organised narratively and 
not under dictionary-headings. Cassell’s Encyclopedia of Literature (2 vols.) 
is useful and E. Blom ed., Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians (9 
vols.) (1954), though a little British, standard. The Encyclopedia of 
World Art (to be completed in 15 vols., I-V published) is outstanding. 
The Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences (1931), though getting old, remains 
very useful. The following atlases, not so far mentioned, may also be 
consulted with profit: Atlas Istorii SSSR (1950), J. D. Fage, An atlas of 
African history (1958), H. W. Hazard and.H. L. Cooke, Atlas of Islamic 
History (1943), J. T. Adams ed., Atlas of American History (1957) and the 
general J. Engel et. al Grosser Historischer Weltatlas (1957) and the 
Rand McNally Atlas of World History (1957). 



Abd-el-Kader, Algerian leader, 161, 224 
Abel, Henrik, mathematician, 280, 

Afghanistan, Afghans, 107, 224 
Africa, African, 2, 3, 7, 8, 13, 19, 25, 26, 
34 . 35 . ' 07 . 109. 144 . >61, 170, 223. 
224, 267, 299, 303 
Age of Reason, the, by T. Paine, 221 
Albanians, 139, 140 
Albert, Prince Consort, 186 
d’Alembert, J. L. R., encyclopaedist, 20 
Alexander I, Tsar of Russia, too, 102, 
109, 230 
Alexandria, 177 

Algeria, 108, 153, 161, 177, 197, 224, 

Ali Mohammed (of Persia), reformer, 

Ali Pasha, ‘the Lion of Jannina’, 140 
Almanack des Gourmands, 184 
Alsace, see France 

America, American, 8, 10, 18, 19, 24, 25, 
33 . 34 . 35 . 39 , 4 <>, 54 ,69,84, 9 «> >28, 130, 
« 42 , 153, 172, 223, 257, 267, 301 
American Bible Society, 223 
American Board of Commissioners for 
Foreign Missions, 223 
American Civil War, 93, 179 
American Constitution, 201, 220 
American Declaration of Independence, 

American Methodist Episcopalians, 223 
American War of Independence, see 
Revolution, American 
Andalusia, see Spain 
Andersen, Hans G, writer, 254 
Anglicans, 30, 223, 225, 232, 265 
Annates de Chimie et de Physique, 280 
Annales d’Hygiene Publique, 204n 

Anti-Corn Law League, 41, 124, 127, 


Anti-Duhring by Engels, 295 
Appalachians, 228 
Apulia, see Italy 

Arabia, Arabs, 139, 224, 267; see also 

Aragon, see Spain 
Argentine, 110, 142, 239, 303 
Aristotle, 287 
Argand lamp, 298 
Arkwright, R., inventor, 27 
Armenia, see Russia 
Arnim, Bettina von, writer, 262n 
Arnim, L. A. von, writer, 266 
Ars, Curi d’, priest, 226 
Asia, Asian, 7, 8, ign, 25, 35, too, 104, 
107, 108, 109, 143, 144, 161, 170, 

Aspern-Essling, battle of (1809), 87 
Assignats, 94 

Atlantic, 19, 138, 167, 276, 301 
Auber, O. F. E., composer, 256n 
Austen, Jane, novelist, 66, 93, 255, 262, 

Austerlitz, battle of, 86, 94 
Australia, 170, 179 

Austria, 11, 14, 21, 25, 72, 79, 80, 84, 85, 
86, 87, 88n, 89, 93, 95, 100, 101, 102, 
103, 105, 106, 117, 124, 125, 126, 134, 
136,140, 143, i 5 2n, 157, 170, 173,175, 
176, 192, 196, 230,249n, 254, 255,267, 
269, 300 

Austrian Empire, see Austria; see also 
feohemia, Croatia, Galicia, Hungary, 
Illyria, Istria, Italy, Milan, Moravia, 
Poland, Salzburg, Tyrol, Venice 
Austrian Netherlands, see Belgium 
Avignon, 88 



Babbage, Charles, scientist, 186, 278 
Babeuf, Gracchus, communist; Babou- 
vists, 11, 57, 73, 113, 115, 122, 123, 
126, 268 

Bach, J. S., composer, 260 
Bacon, Francis, philosopher, 219 
Baden, 85, 143 
Bahia, see Brazil 

Baines, Edward, journalist-publisher, 
4on, 186 
Bakuninism, 160 

Balkans, 11, 14, 18, 79, 87, too, 104, 105, 
115, 118, 139, 140, 141, 142, 143, 168, 
180, 254 

Baltic, 15, 19, 91, 101, 153, 289 
Balzac, H. de, writer, 27, 54, 183, 184, 
*92n, 353. 254. 255. 256, 258, 259 
Banda Oriental, see Uruguay 
Baptists, 186, 223, 225 
Baptist Missionary Society, 223 
Barings, financiers, 96 
Barlow, Joel, 790 
Baskerville, J., printer, 21 
Basques, 159, 180 

Bastille, 10, 28, 53, 61, 240, 251, 264 
Batavian Republic, see Holland 
Baudelaire, C. (1821-67), poet, 270 
Baudrillart, Henri, academic, igg 
Bavaria, 85, 159, 306 
Beauvilliers, A., chef, 184 
Bedouin, 139 

Beethoven, L. von, composer, 78, 79, 253, 
254. 255. 256, 258 

Bel-Ami by Maupassant, 183 
Belgium, 18, 24,27, 33,44,52, 54, 68, 72, 
73. 81, 83, 90, 93, too, 101, 103, no, 
in, 113, 117, 118, 123, 127, 130, 134, 
136, 156, 169, 170, 173, 174, 176, 177, 
192, 205, 254, 279, 284, 287, 301, 306, 
307; see also Low Countries 
Belleville, 213 

Bellini, V., composer, 254, 255 
Benbow, William, pamphleteer, 210 
Bengal, 26, 54, 161, 162, 163, 286 
Bcntham, Jeremy, reformer, 3, 790, 114, 
164, i88n, 191, 192, 220, 234,236, 239, 
241, 279 

Biranger, P. J. de, poet (1780-1857), 

Berg, Grand Duchy of, 82 

Berlin,85,171,175,184,261,274, 279,280 
Berlioz, H., composer, 254, 261 
Bernard, Claude, physiologist, 295 
Berthollet, C.-L., chemist, 177 
Bessarabia, 101 

Bible, Chapter 12 passim, 286, 287, 289, 

Bible in Spain by George Borrow, 1 i7n 
Biedermeier, 175, 272, 273 
Birkbeck College, see London Mechanics 

Birmingham, 21, 32, 78, 221, 279, 281, 

Black George, King of Serbia, 140 
Black Sea, 15, 141 

Blake, William, poet, 78, 243, 2560, 262, 
263, 267, 294 

Blanqui, Auguste, revolutionary, 122, 
123, 126, 127 

Boehme, Jacob, mystic, 218 
Boerne, Ludwig, journalist, 109 
Bohemia, 15, 88n, 143, is6n, 174, 285; 

see also Czechoslovakia, Czechs 
Bolivar, Simon, liberator, 110, 142, 164 
Bolivia, 110 
Bologna, see Italy 

Bolyai, Janos, mathematician, 280, 282 
Bolton, 41, 46n, 207 
Bombay, 143, 162 

Bonald, L. de, political writer, 91, 247 
Bonaparte, see Napoleon 
Bonaparte, Joseph, King of Spain, 87 
Bopp, Franz, philologist, 286, 287 
Bordeaux, 19 
Borinage, 202 

Borrow, George, writer, 11 yn 
Bosnia, Bosnians, 140 
Boston, Mass., 10, 272 
Boulogne-sur-Mer, no 
Boulton, Matthew, industrialist, 21, 187, 

Bourbon, Bourbonism, 84, 101, 110, 117, 
125, *35. >55. >59, ‘6o> 183 
Bouvard, A., astronomer, 277 
Brabant, see Belgium 
Brahmin, 265 

Brahmo Samaj, see Roy, Ram Mohan 
Brazil, 10, 14, no, 142, 153, 224, 239, 
299, 3® 1 . 303 
Brentano, C., writer, 266 



Breslau, 290 
Brest, 183 

Bright, John, politician, 206, 305 
Brillat-Savarin, A., gourmet, 184 
Brindley, J., engineer, 27 
Brissot, J. P., politician, 68 
Bristol, 19, 34 

Britain, 1, 2, 3, 9, 16, 19, 20, 21, 22, 24, 
25, 26, Chapter 2 passim, 53, 54, 55, 
59. 63, 66, 67, 68, 76, 78, 79, 82, 83, 
84, 86, 87, 89, 93, 94, 95, 96, 97, 98, 
too, 101, 102, 103, 104, 105, 106, 107, 
108, 109, MO, Ml, M2, 113, 114, 115, 
117, ll8, Iig, 120, 121, 122, 123, 124, 
127, 128, 130, 135, 136, 138, 139, 141. 
150. > 5 ‘. ‘ 53 , 155. > 57 . ‘61, 162, 163, 
172. ‘ 74 . ‘ 75 , *76. 177. 178, 179. l8 °. 
181, 184, 189, 190, 191, 192, 193, 194, 
195, 198,201,202,2040,205,206, 207, 
209, 210, 211, 212, 213, 214, 215, 216, 
220, 221, 222, 225, 226, 227, 228, 231, 
232. 235, 236, 238, 239, 241, 242, 243, 
244, 246, 250, 252, 253, 254, 255, 257, 
258, 267, 268, 269, 270, 272, 273, 274, 
275. 276, 278, 279, 280, 283, 285, 286, 
289, 291, 292, 298, 299, 300, 301, 302, 
303, 305